UN Chief Due in Israel to Press for Cease-fire

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Kerry meets with Ban Ki-Moon in Cairo, July 21, 2014. Credit: AFP

International efforts to stop the fighting between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip will resume Tuesday, following Monday’s arrival in the region of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Ban will come to Israel Tuesday to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, while Kerry will first hold meetings in Egypt. It is not clear if and when Kerry will come to Israel.

The topic of discussion will be another humanitarian cease-fire, in the hope that if both sides agree, it will then be possible to move forward toward a lasting cease-fire based on the Egyptian proposal. Israeli officials said the Qatari cease-fire proposal is no longer on the table.

Earlier Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama said he had sent Kerry to the region to obtain an immediate cease-fire in Gaza. He reiterated that he supports Israel’s right to defend itself, but said he has “serious concerns about the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths and the loss of Israeli lives,” and therefore wants an immediate cease-fire to “stop the deaths of innocent civilians.”

In Doha, the Qatari capital, Abbas met with Khaled Meshal, head of Hamas’ political bureau. A source in Abbas’ entourage termed the meeting “important and good,” adding that despite the reservations Meshal had previously voiced about Egypt’s cease-fire proposal, he and Abbas “agreed that they’re interested in reaching an immediate cease-fire with Egypt’s involvement.”

Meanwhile, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Monday that Israel would like to see Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ forces resume control of the Gaza Strip’s border crossings, and especially the crossing with Egypt, under any cease-fire deal with Hamas.

Two Knesset members who attended the meeting said that according to Ya’alon, Egypt was the one insisting that Abbas’ forces retake control over the crossings, and Israel supported this demand.

Ya’alon stressed that Israel won’t recognize the Fatah-Hamas unity government Abbas has formed. “But various arrangements like control of the crossings is something we could accept,” he added, noting that Abbas “will control the crossings, but won’t control the Gaza Strip itself.”

The two MKs said Ya’alon told the committee that Israel doesn’t intend to use its military operation in Gaza to restore Abbas to power there or topple the Hamas government. “Abu Mazen is benefiting from the lawlessness in this case,” the defense minister added, referring to Abbas by his nickname.

Israel is open to ideas from various parties on how to transfer money to pay salaries to Palestinian government employees in Gaza, Ya’alon continued. According to Military Intelligence’s assessment, the unpaid salary crisis was one of the factors that pushed Hamas to escalate its conflict with Israel, as a way of suppressing internal criticism from Palestinians in Gaza.

Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah spoke on Sunday evening with Khaled Meshal, chief of the Hamas political bureau, and with Islamic Jihad Secretary General Ramadan Shalah, declaring that the opposition in Lebanon is willing to help the Palestinian opposition in any possible way to achieve its goals. Despite his words, the Palestinians do not believe that Hezbollah would be willing to open the northern front against Israel, for many reasons, mainly because Hezbollah is very involved in the battles taking place in Syria.

At the same time, the Palestinians considered this declaration a kind of challenge to Egypt and to Abbas, and a renewal of the strategic alliance between Hezbollah and Hamas, which unraveled after the escalation in Syria when Hamas, which follows Sunni Islam, identified with the rebels against the Alawite-led regime of President Bashar Assad. Hamas’ political position forced the organization’s leaders, first and foremost Meshal, to leave Syria and transfer to the Qatari capital of Doha.

Meshal and Hamas, who have been diplomatically isolated since the ousting of Mohammed Morsi and the Islamic Brotherhood government in Egypt, are beginning to gain support in the Arab and Islamic arena in recent weeks from countries such as Turkey, Qatar, Iran and Hezbollah, and in certain circles in Bahrain and Kuwait.

Therefore it seems Hamas and Meshal are in no hurry to meet with Abbas, despite talk since the weekend about the scheduled meeting between the two. Abbas has been in Doha for almost two days, but the meeting with Meshal, who left for a lightning visit to Kuwait, did not take place.

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