Mel Frykberg
Middle East Times
July 23, 2008 - 4:53pm

In an unusual display of frustration, moderate Hamas official Ahmed Yousef, the adviser on foreign affairs to de-facto Gaza prime minister and Hamas leader Ismail Haniya, has told the Middle East Times that Hamas' patience with Israel is wearing thin.

"I don't know what game the Israelis are playing but quite frankly if the siege isn't lifted and Gaza's borders remain closed, the ceasefire can go to hell, Yousef said by phone.

Although Israel has opened Gaza's borders intermittently, following the announcement of the ceasefire and allowed a trickle of goods through, the territory remains virtually sealed.

This has exacerbated the chronic humanitarian conditions on the ground due to shortages of fuel, food, medicines and construction material.

Furthermore, vital spare parts for machinery needed to keep the strip's infrastructure working, such as water and waste management plants, are not able to be replaced or repaired.

Israel said it had re-closed the crossings following a number of missile attacks from Gaza in violation of the painstakingly negotiated ceasefire that involved a lot of patience on behalf of Egypt, which acted as an arbitrator between the Jewish state and the Islamic resistance movement.

The Qassam rocket attacks were themselves in response to Israeli violations which included a number of shootings at Gazan farmers and other Palestinian civilians, according to the United Nations, whom Israel claimed got too close to the border fence.

These shootings resulted in the serious injury of several civilians and the death of a militant.

Islamic Jihad was responsible for the first barrage of rockets fired at Israel after the start of the truce. This followed a provocative raid by Israeli soldiers in the West Bank which left one Hamas and one Islamic Jihad fighter dead, gunned down at close range according to media reports.

The last volley of missiles aimed at Israel was shot by The al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, an offshoot of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement.

"The shooting of Qassams into Israel only took place at the beginning of the truce. Since then we have arrested some resistance fighters for either breaking or attempting to break the truce," Yousef said.

"Additionally the Israelis have violated the truce themselves on a number of occasions and they are not allowing in sufficient goods. It does not appear to me that Israel is seriously committed to the halting of hostilities," he said.

"People don't see any of the fruits resulting from the ceasefire and their patience can only last so long," Yousef told the Middle East Times.

An editorial in the influential Israeli daily Haaretz reasoned that it was important to "distinguish between the aims that were set and the ability to fulfill all of them at once.

"When Israel decided to sign the ceasefire agreement with Hamas and the other Palestinian organizations, the working assumption was that those organizations would honor their commitment and compel other splinter organizations to keep the same commitment, even by force.

"Hamas has kept its commitment thus far. The Hamas mufti has called anyone who fires a Qassam a 'criminal' and its leadership is declaring that the Qassams damage Palestinian interests," added the editorial.

Both Hamas and Israel have a great interest in maintaining the ceasefire, even though there are criminal gangs, and elements within rival Fatah – which is still smarting following its military defeat by Hamas forces in Gaza last year – to torpedo the agreement in an effort to both undermine and embarrass Hamas.

Even though Israel could claim that any elements in Gaza breaking the ceasefire are the problem of Hamas alone, Israeli security would have been aware from the beginning of the difficulties facing the Islamic resistance organization.

The Middle East Times put it to Yousef that perhaps Israel's continued closure of the borders, through which the desperately needed humanitarian aid is delivered, could be a means of pressuring the guerilla group into showing more flexibility in regard to the stalled prisoner swap.

The Israeli government is under renewed pressure, especially in light of the recent prisoner swap with Lebanon's Hezbollah movement, to secure the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit who was captured by Gazan resistance fighters over two years ago and remains in captivity today.

Yousef wouldn't confirm that there was a direct connection between the two issues but reaffirmed to this newspaper that Israel's refusal to release 450 core prisoners, whom the Israelis contend "have blood on their hands" was, in his opinion, and that of Hamas, unacceptable.

However, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri drew a direct connection.

"Hamas has decided to suspend negotiations for the release of Shalit because of the closure," he said.

Another round of talks on freeing Shalit in return for the freeing of some of the more than 10,000 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails, many without being brought to trial, was meant to have taken place last Saturday in Cairo.

But unless either side is willing to show more flexibility, or a weary and wary Egypt can breathe new life into the deal, it appears this particular chapter of Israel's prisoner swap story is not about to have the same successful outcome that its prisoner swap with Hezbollah did.


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