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Hamas: Rockets will stop when Gaza borders are opened

8:20 AM, Nov 19, 2012   |    comments
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GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- Gaza's Hamas rulers are aiming high in the conditions they place on stopping rocket fire into Israel in indirect cease-fire talks launched this weekend. Emboldened by Arab support and confident in their arsenal, the Islamists say calm can only come if Israel opens the gates of the tiny, closed-off territory.

The question is how far Hamas will go to reach that long-sought goal, which Israel opposes out of fear of an influx of weapons to Gaza militants.

For now, public opinion in Gaza appears to support continued rocket attacks on Israel. However, Israeli aircraft have already struck hundreds of Hamas-linked targets in Gaza and Israel is threatening to escalate its military offensive. On Sunday, a new tactic of bombing the homes of Hamas operatives claimed the lives of at least nine children.

The indirect contacts between Israel and Hamas began Sunday, the fifth day of Israel's massive bombing campaign meant to halt more than a decade of intermittent Gaza rocket attacks on Israel.

An Israeli envoy was whisked from the tarmac at Cairo's international airport to talks with senior Egyptian security officials. The top Hamas leader in exile Khaled Mashaal held talks with Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, who also spoke by phone with the Hamas prime minister in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh.

Hamas' demands, as presented by Mashaal, include open borders for Gaza and international guarantees that Israel will halt all attacks on Gaza, including targeted killings of the movement's leaders. The assassination of Hamas' military chief last week after days of smaller exchanges between the two sides marked the start of the Israeli offensive, the most intense since a three-week-long war four years ago.

The Islamists view the current round of fighting as an opportunity to pry open the borders of Gaza, which slammed shut in 2007, after Hamas wrested control of the territory from its political rival, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. In response to the takeover, Israel and Egypt - then under Morsi's pro-Western predecessor Hosni Mubarak - sealed off Gaza to disrupt Hamas rule.

"We will not accept a cease-fire until the occupation (Israel) meets our conditions," said Izzat Rishaq, a senior Hamas official who is involved in the cease-fire efforts in Cairo.

Free movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza is seen as vital for Hamas' continued control of Gaza.

Both Israel and Egypt's new leader have eased access to the territory since 2007, but many restrictions remain. But even Morsi - who is sympathetic to Hamas as a fellow member of the region-wide Muslim Brotherhood - has resisted Hamas calls for open trade between Gaza and Egypt. Morsi fears such ties could undercut attempts to set up a Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank, the territory on the other side of Israel, where Abbas has partial control.

Associated Press

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