Sheera Frenkel
The Times
July 7, 2008 - 4:16pm

The ceasefire between Israel and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip was on its last legs yesterday, according to Egyptian officials who spent months mediating the complex accord.

Hamas said that it was suspending negotiations with Israel over a prisoner swap deal, citing Israeli violations of a declared truce in Gaza. “There is no way for those talks to begin before the obligations of calm are implemented \,” Sami Abu Zuhri, the Hamas spokesman, said.

Despite Egyptian requests that Hamas envoys return to Cairo to continue indirect talks with Israel, he added, the faction had no plans to send a delegation.

An Egyptian official involved with the negotiations said that there was little hope for the ceasefire. “The truce has been active for 15 days, and for nearly half that time there have been violations by both sides. It is questionable whether this is a truce in practice or just in words.”

The ceasefire was intended to ease Israel’s crippling blockade of Gaza, imposed after Hamas seized control one year ago. Israel demanded that Hamas stop all attacks on Israel, including the near-daily rockets that various Palestinian militants were firing at Israel’s southern communities.

In the later stages of the truce Hamas sought the release of about 1,400 prisoners in exchange for Gilad Schalit, an Israeli soldier who was kidnapped in a cross-border raid in 2006.

Since the truce took effect on June 19, militants have fired 11 rockets and mortars at Israel, security officials said. The border crossings have been closed for a week, leaving the flow of aid to the impoverished area at nearly the same level as before the ceasefire.

“The calm in the south that was achieved with the Egyptians was based on a number of fundamental understandings,” Mark Regev, the Israeli government spokesman, said. “One is that there would be a cessation of all hostile fire into Israel. A second was that there would be expedited talks on the Gilad Schalit case. If Hamas is going to break part of that understanding, it does not give us much confidence.”

Israel has expressed interest in talks over Mr Schalit after it reached a prisoner swap deal with the Lebanese Hezbollah movement.


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