Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, right, and Egyptian Prime Minister Hesham Kandil wave to the crowd as they meet in Gaza City Friday.(Photo: Adel Hana, AP)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Free movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza is seen as vital for Hamas' continued control of Gaza.
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.