KHALED ABU TOAMEH, The Jerusalem Post, March 3, 2008
Beleaguered Hamas leaders on Sunday signaled their willingness to reach a cease-fire with Israel, sources close to Hamas said.
The sources said Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh sent urgent messages to the leaders of Egypt, Jordan, Qatar and Saudi Arabia urging them to work toward ending the IDF military operations in the Gaza Strip.
The sources told The Jerusalem Post that Haniyeh and other Hamas leaders also appealed to Turkey to intervene and convince Israel to halt its offensive.
Hamas's apparent readiness to reach a cease-fire with Israel is seen by some Palestinians as evidence of the Islamist movement's concern that it may lose control over the Gaza Strip should the military operations continue.
"Hamas is nervous," remarked a senior Palestinian Authority official in Ramallah. "All their leaders have gone underground. They didn't expect such a massive attack from Israel."
Other Palestinians, however, said Hamas's call for a cease-fire at this stage of the fighting was aimed at showing that Israel had failed in achieving its primary goal of toppling the Hamas regime.
Taher a-Nunu, a spokesman for the Hamas government, confirmed that the Hamas leadership had sought the intervention of a number of Arab countries in reaching a cease-fire with Israel.
He said Hamas had also invited Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa to visit the Gaza Strip in solidarity with the Palestinians.
"Hamas wants to end the genocide and holocaust in the Gaza Strip," the spokesman said. "We have urged a number of Arab and Muslim leaders to exert pressure on the Americans and Europeans to save the Palestinians."
He also accused Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of providing Israel with an excuse to attack the Gaza Strip by declaring that al-Qaida had established bases there. "Some of the leaders of the Mukata [presidential compound] in Ramallah gave Israel a green light to launch its aggression on the Gaza Strip," he added. "The Americans have also given their blessing to the attack."
Hamas leaders and spokesmen expressed deep concern over the failure of the Arab and Islamic governments to put pressure on Israel and the US to stop the IDF operations. "The Arabs and Muslims are not only sleeping," said a Hamas official. "They are actually partners to the Israeli aggression."
He said Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah II were the only Arab leaders who were actively working toward reaching a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel.
The Egyptians and Jordanians are clearly worried that the violence in the Gaza Strip would trigger unrest in their countries. Over the weekend, thousands of Palestinians, Jordanians and Egyptians demonstrated in protest against the IDF raids and the "continued silence" of the Arab leaders.
Mubarak on Sunday decided to reopen the Rafah border crossing to allow Palestinians to be brought into Egypt for medical treatment. Some 200 Palestinians were transferred immediately from the Gaza Strip to different hospitals in Egypt. Jordan also decided to open its hospitals to Palestinians from the Gaza Strip.
Meanwhile, PA officials in Ramallah voiced concern over growing protests in the West Bank in the aftermath of the IDF military operations. The officials warned that the ongoing offensive and the growing number of casualties in the Gaza Strip could spark a "new intifada" in the West Bank.
According to a PA official, Palestinian policemen refused Sunday to confront demonstrators in many West Bank cities out of fear of being branded "collaborators" with Israel. "The Israeli military escalation is weakening the Palestinian Authority," the official warned. "Israel is rallying more and more Palestinians behind Hamas."
Abbas, who has been facing heavy criticism from Hamas and many Arabs, on Sunday succumbed to pressure to halt peace talks with Israel. His decision also received the backing of the Fatah and PLO leadership.
Nabil Abu Rudaineh, a spokesman for Abbas, said the PA president decided to suspend negotiations and "all forms of contacts on all levels [with Israel] because it has become meaningless in the wake of the continued Israeli aggression."