Hamas ends truce with Israel

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Shelter in Sderot, Israel

Hamas declared a formal end to the six-month Israel-Hamas Egyptian-brokered truce at 4 a.m. GMT which was set to expire today. The pact had begun to fail weeks ago with tit-for-tat attacks across Israel's border with the Gaza Strip. The past six months have seen a dramatic drop in the number of rockets and mortars fired into Israel from Gaza. Yesterday saw an escalation of the violence, beginning with an Israeli air raid on Gaza and Hamas responded to Israel's attack by firing eight rockets and five mortars at Israel's southern towns. However the past three days have seen up to 50 rockets fired, and Israeli operations in Gaza. The European Union called for an "immediate cessation" of both Palestinian rocket fire and Israeli incursions.

"The calm is over", said Hamas official Ayman Taha, after talks with other Palestinian factions. "The calm, which was reached with Egyptian sponsorship on June 19 and expires on December 19, is finished because the enemy did not abide by its obligations," said Fawzi Barhum, a spokesman for the Hamas. "The truce will end tomorrow." Hamas has also released a training video, and warned Israel that any attacks on Gaza would "open the doors of the battle wide".

"We think the lull is in the best interest of both sides," stated Israel Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor. "We would like it to continue. If Hamas chooses violence over the cease-fire, rocket shooting over the possibility of improving the situation in Gaza, then one must ask oneself whether Hamas has the best interests of its people in mind or whether there are foreign interests that are involved."

Hamas have said that Israel had failed to ease its blockade of Gaza but Israeli officials insist that there was no commitment to ease the siege. The UN's relief agency described the situation as a "profound human dignity crisis". A BBC correspondent said that "the best pragmatists on both sides can hope for is that the end of truce will not necessarily lead to a major outbreak of fighting."

Hamas mural

In the week leading up to the end of the truce, tens of thousands of Hamas supporters rallied in a Gaza City stadium to celebrate the 21st anniversary of the group's founding during the First Intifada. Mahmoud Zahar, a senior Hamas official, commented that "Hamas has gone from stone-throwing to guns and rockets, from a support base of a few thousand people to a backing of millions in Arab countries and around the world." During the rally a Hamas activist dressed as Gilad Shalit and begged for his life, asking to come home. "I miss my mother and father," he said in Hebrew. The Israeli UN envoy, Professor Gabriela Shalev, decried the Hamas play mocking Gilad Shalit and voiced Israel's outrage.

On Tuesday, 16 December, an Israeli court sentenced Aziz Dweik, the democratically elected head of the Palestinian Legislative Council, the Palestinian parliament, to three years in prison for belonging to Hamas. He was arrested with other politicians after the capture of Gilad Shalit. On Sunday, 14 December, Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter met with Khaled Meshaal, the leader of Hamas' political wing. The five-hour meeting was to discuss negotiations for the release of Gilad Shalit, a corporal in the Israeli Defense Forces. Khaled said Hamas would allow Shalit to send a message to his parents but would not release him. The Interim Arab Parliament (IAP) has called on the international community to work for the release of Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) Speaker Aziz Dweik.

Annapolis Conference on November 27, 2008.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, who is to hold talks with President George W. Bush on Friday, will press Washington to ensure "there is no return to square one once there is a new government in Israel," said Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat. The AP reports that President Bush and Abbas are assessing the stalled U.S.-backed negotiations with Israel that will almost certainly fail to meet a year-end deadline for a peace deal. The U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said she believes the Annapolis process is the best way to a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians. U.N. Security Council endorsed the process as irreversible and urged the two parties to continue talking under its guidelines.