Palestinian desperation fuelling mounting Hamas truce demands

While there has been a pause in hostilities, an end is not in sight

Displaced Palestinian women  cry after an Israeli airstrike hit their  shelter in a UN school, at Beit Hanoun hospital in the northern Gaza Strip, yesterday. Photograph: Adel Hana/AP

Displaced Palestinian women cry after an Israeli airstrike hit their shelter in a UN school, at Beit Hanoun hospital in the northern Gaza Strip, yesterday. Photograph: Adel Hana/AP

Fri, Jul 25, 2014, 01:00

Palestinian conditions for a ceasefire have not only multiplied as Israel’s assault has intensified but also the western-backed Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority, based in the West Bank, has been compelled to endorse the list advanced by rival Hamas, which rules Gaza and is shunned by Israel and its allies.

In a document presented to the Arab League, US and UN, Hamas and Fatah demand that Israel open Gaza’s borders, release Palestinian prisoners, extend fishing grounds to 12 nautical miles from Gaza’s shore and permit farmers to till their land near border areas. Cairo is asked to open the Rafah crossing from Gaza to Egypt and the world community to establish a committee to ensure implementation.

The rising death toll and massive destruction inflicted on Gaza mean Hamas cannot cede these conditions, most of which are, reportedly rejected by Israel.

Hamas argues that Israel has never honoured pledges to lift its siege and blockade of Gaza made in 2011 in exchange for the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit or for Hamas’s acceptance of the 2012 ceasefire. Many Palestinians say they agree with Hamas that Gaza’s 1.7 million citizens cannot continue to be besieged and repeatedly targeted by major Israeli operations if Gazans resist by firing rockets into Israel.

Tired and exhausted

Palestinian human rights activist Raji Sourani has said: “People are furious . . . now we are having the third war . . . in about five years. It’s too much for any population. People are sick, tired and exhausted and nobody wants to be a submissive victim. [We] feel there is nothing more to lose. It’s better for all of us to die” than to “go back to the situation . . . before this war.”

Palestinians want to live normal lives without occupation.

Independent Gazan lawmaker Rawia Shawwa said: “Let them time their attacks to match the mondial [World Cup], every four years instead of every two years.”

Palestinian desperation has empowered Hamas not only to stick to its original demand for a lifting of the siege by Israel and Egypt but also to add other conditions. While the Palestinian Authority is safe in the West Bank, Hamas leaders share the dangers faced by Gazans. Its fighters are seen as Gaza’s only hope for relief from the siege.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has not been able to achieve any movement on a ceasefire despite meetings with Egyptian president Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi and US secretary of state John Kerry, who seek an unconditional ceasefire, and the Turkish and Qatari leaders, who support Hamas’s conditions.

Consequently, Abbas has little credibility with Hamas or his own people. Neither Abbas nor Rami Hamdallah, prime minister of the Fatah-Hamas unity government, have travelled to Gaza to demonstrate solidarity with its people. Instead Abbas has toured the region and is now in Jordan to confer with King Abdullah.

He has also sent his family to Amman, suggesting that he does not trust West Bankers who have been demonstrating against the Israeli offensive.

Dead and wounded

To complicate the situation, having inflicted more casualties on Israeli troops than in previous rounds of fighting, Hamas’s military wing has said it, not the political leadership, will decide when to agree to a ceasfire and under what terms.

At present, humanitarian organisations are pressing for a pause so dead and wounded can be evacuated and aid can be delivered to those in need. Hamas has agreed to a pause but not a cessation of hostilities.

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