Hamas Split on Resuming Gaza Fire Against Israel, Top IDF Officer Says

Speaking during tour of south with President Peres, GOC Southern Command Tal Russo says Hamas' diplomatic leadership is trying to prevent its military wing from further escalating tensions along the Gaza border.

Hamas' diplomatic leadership is interested in maintaining relative calm along the Gaza Strip's border with Israel, a top Israel Defense Forces officer said on Wednesday, while the group's military commanders are bent on resuming attacks.

The remarks by GOC Southern Command Tal Russo come as international mediators brokered a respite to the recent fighting between Israel and Hamas. The cross border conflict escalated dramatically last week, becoming the most intense confrontation between the two since Israel's war in the Palestinian territory in late December 2008.

Tal Russo and President Shimon Peres 13.4.2011

Speaking of the tense quiet around the Gaza Strip, Russo said during joint a visit to the area with President Shimon Peres that the IDF's actions were "geared toward one goal alone – allowing the residents of the south to lead a normal and quiet life."

"We have operated in every front – land, sea, and air – and we have hit Hamas hard," Russo said, estimating that there was a "significant gap between Hamas' diplomatic and military leaderships."

"The diplomatic leadership wants to stop the fire, while the military commanders seek to send out attacks and stir things up," Russo said, adding that the situation in Gaza was like "a tail wagging the dog."

"The IDF is ready for all possibilities, but our supreme goal is to allow a quiet and normal life in the south," he said.

Also speaking during the visit, President Peres denounced Hamas for targeting Israeli civilians, saying it was "a terror group devoid of all humanity."

Peres referred to the recent anti-tank missile attack on an Israeli school bus, saying that the strike was "another proof of [Hamas'] cruelty and clear intentions to murder Israeli children, women, and infants in cold blood."

"Hamas can choose right now to stop all weapons' smuggling and rocket fire and then Gaza would enjoy relative calm," the president said, adding that if, however, Hamas chose to "hurt Israeli citizens, then the IDF would be ready to land a painful blow."