Israel and Hamas Both Working to Stop the Escalation

Islamic Jihad, PRC responsible for almost all of Sunday's 30 rockets fired from Gaza; IAF specifically targets rocket-launching squads.

The number of rockets from the Gaza Strip was waning Sunday afternoon, the fourth day of action Sunday between the Israel Defense Forces and the Palestinian terror groups in the Strip. Hamas and Israel had reportedly reached a temporary cease-fire, brokered by Egypt, which ostensibly went into effect Sunday.

Although Sunday some 30 rockets were fired from Gaza, almost all of them came from Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees. Some 10 people in the Gaza Strip were injured in Israel Air Force bombardments.

Troops Eilat pigua 18811 AP

But the Internet site of the Egyptian daily Al-Ahram reported that a high-level Israeli delegation was in Cairo for discussions on the cease-fire and resolving the diplomatic crisis with Egypt.

Israeli security sources told Haaretz Sunday that Hamas had conveyed messages over the past few days through various channels that it wants quiet restored.

Meanwhile, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, touring the Iron Dome battery in the south, said: "The possibility is very great that the heads of those who work against us will be separated from their bodies."

Barak's statement notwithstanding, Israel is in fact working to prevent escalation.

The air force specifically targeted rocket-launching squads and avoided Hamas targets until Sunday afternoon, when it attacked two unmanned positions of the Hamas security force.

Defense officials reiterated Sunday over the past few days that Hamas had not fired rockets at Israel.

Israel does not want to continue fighting or inflict major damage on Hamas, possibly due to concern over military complication so close to the presentation in the UN General Assembly of the bid for Palestinian statehood in September.

The nature of Israel's sorties actually left Hamas wide maneuvering room to continue negotiating with the other organizations over a cease fire.

Hamas itself seems divided over whether to continue or halt escalation. An announcement appeared on its website Saturday night claiming responsibility for four rockets on Ofakim, but disappeared a few hours later, replaced by reports of the Cairo-brokered cease-fire talks.

Although some in Hamas do not want to appear upstaged by the smaller groups in resistance to Israel, others seem to realize that there are other factors to consider.

According to a Reuters report yesterday, Iran halted funding to Hamas two months ago because of the latter's refusal to engineer rallies supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad, and Hamas has been unable to pay salaries to 40,000 people.

While fighting with Israel can be an effective distraction from Hamas' cash-flow problems, it is also a dangerous adventure.

Moreover, despite Hamas' belligerent statements, it is slowly becoming Israel's partner in maintaining quiet in the south. It has shown signs of taking control in Gaza, and while allowing the smaller groups to let off steam, it has conveyed non-threatening messages to them to stop shooting.

But even such letting off of steam is cause for Israel to worry. Islamic Jihad's strike on Be'er Sheva could encourage it to persist, pinpointing Israeli cities like Be'er Sheva and Yavneh with increasing accuracy.