Haniyeh Advisor: Hamas Willing to Discuss a Truce With Israel

Report: Hamas seeking other factions' support for temporary truce with Israel; other Hamas officials deny talks.

Hamas is willing to reach an agreement with Israel on a temporary truce to halt Qassam rocket fire, in exchange for the cessation of Israel Defense Forces activity against Gaza militants, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh's advisor told the Palestinian news agency Ma'an on Saturday.

The advisor, Ahmed Yusuf, also listed the opening of Gaza border passages and the removal of the economic embargo imposed on the coastal territory as conditions for a temporary truce, called a "tahadiyeh" - or calming - in Arabic.

"We don't oppose a calming that will end the closure," Yusuf said, "but there won't be a calming in exchange for nothing, and it won't be unlimited," he continued.

Yusuf denied reports of direct contacts between Israel and Hamas regarding a truce, and added that in contacts between Europeans and Hamas officials, only a tahadiyeh is on the table, not a cease-fire ("hudna," in Arabic).

The senior advisor said that if an agreement is reached on a temporary truce, "rocket fire by all Palestinians will stop, Israeli air attacks in the Strip will stop and attacks and arrests will stop." He added that any agreement reached by the Hamas leadership will commit all of the other Palestinian factions, "as long as this decision serves the supreme interests of the Palestinian people."

Israel Radio reported on Saturday that Hamas has begun drafting terms for a temporary cease-fire with Israel while trying to gain support from other Palestinian factions to accept it.

Hamas first floated the idea of a truce in a phone call to an Israeli TV reporter Tuesday from Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of the Hamas government in Gaza. The proposal was officially made Thursday though Egyptian mediators. Previous truces have also been negotiated through Egyptian mediation, but none have held for long.

Israel Radio quoted a senior Hamas official as telling the London-based Arabic-language newspaper Asharq Alawsat on Saturday that it is attempting to enlist support for the cease-fire from other Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told the newspaper that the proposal under discussion was an unconditional bilateral cease-fire with Israel.

However, Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman, said the reports of a truce draft were untrue. "There is continuous Israeli aggression, and there is resistance. The ball is still in Israel's court," he said. "It is up to (Israel) because when they stop all their aggressions we will then discuss the issue."

Hamas spokesman Ismail Radwan also denied reports of cease-fire negotiations. "There's no significance to talks regarding any truce while the aggression against the Palestinian people continues," he told Channel 10 on Saturday.

Israel Radio also reported that senior Lebanon-based Hamas official Osama Hamdan said in Kuwait that the Palestinian side was considering an Israeli offer for an indefinite truce.

Nonetheless, Hamdan stressed, Hamas opposes a diplomatic agreement with Israel and views the country's existence as a threat to the entire region, and not just the Palestinians.

Also Saturday, Army Radio quoted an unnamed Hamas official as telling the Saudi newspaper Al-Jazeera that the organization was pressuring Islamic Jihad to halt the incessant firing of Qassam rockets at Israeli towns.

At least three high-ranking Israeli officials said this week that they favor a conditional cease-fire with Hamas, if the militant group that controls Gaza halts rocket fire into Israel.

On Saturday, Cabinet Minister Ami Ayalon added his voice in favor of the proposal.

Ayalon, a former head of the Shin Bet internal security service, also said that Israeli intelligence had failed by not gathering the means to secure the release of Gilad Shalit, an Israel Defense Soldier soldier captured by Hamas-affiliated militants last year.

"We could not carry out a military operation to release Shalit because of an intelligence failure," he said. "The intelligence community did not gather enough information to carry out such an operation."

Amos Gilad, head of the Defense Ministry's political security department, said Saturday that Hamas has no real intention of honoring a truce, and is merely seeking a temporary cease-fire in order to regroup and rearm.

Gilad said Israel would press ahead in its fight against militants as long as rocket fire persists. "From time to time they offer a halt in operations when they have suffered a serious or significant blow," Gilad told Israel Radio. "They have no intentions of a real truce."

Taher Nunu, a Hamas government official, said Gilad's comments are "an attempt to escape the requirements of a truce that it has to live up to."

"This is a diplomatic rejection of any possible truce," he said.

Housing Minister Ze'ev Boim echoed Gilad's sentiments in an interview with Channel 1 TV.

"This is a honey trap, they need some breathing room, they are under a lot of pressure," he said.

Ribhi Rantisi, a Hamas activist in Gaza, also spoke with Channel 1 via telephone from Gaza and had an informal chat with Boim in which he tried to convince the minister about Hamas' truce intentions.

"We are interested in a cease-fire, we are not begging for it," he said.

Two IDF soldiers lightly hurt on Gaza border

On Friday, Two Israel Defense Forces reservists were lightly wounded when Palestinian militants detonated an explosive device near the security fence at the Kissufim Crossing on the border with the Gaza Strip.

Also Friday, three Qassam rockets were fired from Gaza. One struck south of the Negev city of Ashkelon, another an open field near Sderot and the third appeared to have landed inside Gaza, Israel Radio reported. No injuries or damages were reported in the strikes.

The IDF has said it would continue its attacks against militants in the Gaza Strip despite calls by the Hamas leadership for a possible temporary calm.

Defense officials say the heavy pressure on the militants is making progress, and there will be room to consider a change to the offensive only if Hamas imposes on other militant factions a moratorium on Qassam rocket attacks.

Meanwhile, a Hamas militant was killed Friday morning by IDF fire in the southern Gaza Strip town of Khan Yunis on Friday, the Palestinian Islamist group and medical workers said.

The IDF Spokesman's Office, however, said it was not aware of any exchange of fire in the area.

Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer said Friday that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert may consider talks with Hamas on a long-term cease-fire. But, as part of such a deal, Hamas must not only stop the rocket fire, but also cease smuggling arms into the Gaza Strip from Egypt and open talks for the release of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, captured by Hamas-affiliated militants last year, Ben-Eliezer said.

"The prime minister I know doesn't totally rule anything out," Ben-Eliezer told Israel Radio. "If a serious, realistic proposal is put on the table and Hamas is willing to discuss a long-term cease-fire and is willing to stop the terror, to stop the smugglings and is willing to open talks on the release of Gilad Shalit, I would go to negotiations."

In an IDF operation Thursday in the central Gaza Strip, one soldier was seriously injured and seven Palestinian gunmen were killed. A number of Qassam rockets and mortar shells were fired on the western Negev, with one rocket landing near a school in Sderot. There were no injuries.

Security sources: IDF pressure led to Hamas calls for truce

Security sources said analyses by the IDF and Shin Bet security service concluded that Israel's military pressure on the Gaza militants led to the recent announcement by former Palestinian prime minister Ismail Haniyeh on the need for a cease-fire.

The Israeli side, including the office of Prime Minister Olmert, has deep suspicions about the Hamas offer for a cease-fire, and there is no support for any form of negotiations. However, if Haniyeh manages to rein in the militants and offers a tahadiyeh (calm) in a few months, Israel may respond positively.

The military pressure on the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip is only aggravating an already difficult economic situation, made harder by the sanctions limiting the flow of goods and fuel to Gaza. There are also restrictions on Gazans from leaving the area through the Rafah crossing on the border with the Sinai Peninsula.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak congratulated the security forces Thursday for their recent operations in which more than 20 militants were killed.

The political leadership is also pleased that the IDF attacks have been precise and have not harmed civilians.

However, they acknowledge that the efforts to stem the rocket attacks are not effective, and there is renewed support for reinforcing Sderot and the nearby towns with an inflow of NIS 320 million for fortifying secure areas.