By HERB KEINON, KHALED ABU TOAMEH, JPOST
US Secretary of State Kerry due to return to Cairo for further talks on truce after meeting with PM; Hamas leader Mashaal says willing for “humanitarian cease-fire,” still has conditions.
As Hamas head Khaled Mashaal indicated in Doha Wednesday night that Hamas was ready for a “humanitarian cease-fire,” the security cabinet met to discuss the direction of the military action inside Gaza, as well as the diplomatic efforts to stop it.
Mashaal continued to lay down conditions for the cease-fire, calling for lifting the blockade that has been imposed on the Gaza Strip since 2007 and reopening the border crossings. He said Hamas would not accept any cease-fire that bypasses the demands of the movement and other resistance groups in the Gaza Strip.
“There is no real breakthrough and many are still insisting on a cease-fire that would be later followed by negotiations,” he said. “Our demands for a truce are legitimate.
We have presented them to Qatar, Turkey, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority.
Today we rejected an initiative that called for a ceasefire that would be followed by negotiations.”
The security cabinet meeting came at the end of another intensive day of diplomatic efforts to forge a cease-fire, and after a meeting in Tel Aviv between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and US Secretary of State John Kerry.
Even as the two were meeting, one government official said a cease-fire “is not in the cards yet.” The diplomatic efforts, the official said, were “still in flux” and a “work in progress.”
Before meeting Netanyahu, Kerry – who arrived in the morning from Cairo – held meetings with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon, and President Shimon Peres.
Following his meeting with Abbas, Kerry said “we have been talking about how to achieve an end to the current violence and an effort to try to not only have a cease-fire, but build a process that can create a sustainable way forward for everybody.” Kerry said he had a “good conversation” with Abbas, and that “we will continue to push for this cease-fire,” adding that “some progress in moving toward that goal” was made in the past 24 hours.
Following his meeting with Netanyahu, Kerry was scheduled to return to Cairo for further talks there.
Before the security cabinet meeting, one of its members – Finance Minister Yair Lapid – said in a Channel 2 interview that the objectives of the operation needed to be met “before they talk to us about a ceasefire.”
Lapid defined the objectives as cleansing “Gaza of its terrorist tunnels and delivering a significant blow to Hamas’s rocket infrastructure.”
Even amid all the talk of a ceasefire, Lapid said the government was telling IDF to “go, achieve your objectives.”
The finance minister said in addition to the tunnels and rocket infrastructure, Israel will also go after the heads of Hamas.
“We see them as legitimate targets,” he said, making no distinction between the organization’s political and military leadership.
“A terrorist organization is a terrorist organization,” and Hamas’s leaders should all know that they “should remain underground,” Lapid said.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who is also a member of the security cabinet, said the IDF action now was focused on the tunnels, which were an immediate threat, but that there was no intention to end there if Hamas continued to fire its rockets.
Livni said she was telling the statesmen visiting, including Ban and others, that part of the solution needed to be disarming the terrorist organizations, and that it was important to mobilize the world toward that goal.
This message was, apparently, getting through to the world to a certain degree.
White House Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken said in an NPR interview Wednesday that “one would hope” that one of the results of the cease-fire “would be some form of demilitarization so that this doesn’t continue, doesn’t repeat itself. That needs to be the end result.”
A day earlier the EU said following a meeting of its foreign ministers that “all terrorist groups in Gaza must disarm.”
Mashaal, meanwhile, rejected demands for the disarmament, saying that in order for this to happen, Israel would have to end “occupation” and disarm.
Referring to the suspension of international flights to Israel, Mashaal said: “When you lay siege to our airspace, we lay siege to your airspace. The resistance is today in the Gaza Strip and tomorrow it is capable of surrounding you in the West Bank.”
Addressing the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip, Mashaal said he and other Hamas leaders were prepared to die for the sake of ending the blockade. He also called on the PA to end security coordination with Israel.
Meanwhile, British Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond arrived for his first visit here since his appointment earlier this month, and will hold talks in Israel and Ramallah to try to push a cease-fire forward.
He is scheduled to meet Netanyahu Thursday morning.
Abbas on Wednesday told Kerry during their meeting in Ramallah that “99% of the victims [of the Israeli military offensive in the Gaza Strip] are children, women and the elderly.”
Chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat quoted Abbas as saying that “this is not a war on Hamas or the Gaza Strip, but the Palestinian people.”
Abbas also reportedly told Kerry that the Israeli military operation was not an act of self defense, but “defense of settlements and aggression.”