Adam Gonn
April 10, 2011 - 12:00am

After a weekend of intense Israeli air strikes and artillery fire in response to over 120 rockets launched from the Gaza Strip, Hamas is calling Israel to halt its attacks.

In an interview with the Israel Radio on Sunday, Ghazi Hamad, the deputy foreign minister of the deposed Hamas government, said that "we are interested in calm, but want the Israeli military to stop its operations."

Earlier on Sunday Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Israel was willing to accept a mutual ceasefire with Hamas.

"If they stop firing on our communities, we will stop firing. If they stop firing in general, it will be quiet. It will be good, " Barak was quoted by local newspaper Ha'aretz as saying.

In the last three days, 19 Palestinians, primarily Hamas members, were killed in Israel's retaliatory strikes.

When asked if Israel was considering a ground offensive into the Gaza Strip to end Hamas' rule, Barak said "all options are on the table," but added that an offensive might not be necessary.

Analysts told Xinhua that the two sides could establish a short- term ceasefire, but may not necessarily reach a longer period of calm.


Naji Shurab, a professor of political science at al-Azhar University in Gaza, said that over the weekend the Israeli retaliation had been so fierce that "wherever you were in Gaza City, you could hear rockets and grenades landing."

"There's going to be a ceasefire, because it is in the common interest for both Israel and Hamas to reach a temporary truce," he said.

Hamas is not the only Palestinian resistance group in Gaza, and the organization is attempting to reach an agreement with the other movements to declare a ceasefire, he said, "But Hamas doesn' t want to be seen as surrendering to Israel. The group still say that it's ready to respond to any Israeli hostility."

Shurab believes such statements are meant for the media, and to keep up Hamas' appearances among its own members. In reality, Hamas is facing strong pressure from both its own leaders and several Arab countries, such as Egypt and Qatar, to agree to a ceasefire.

Ha'aretz reported that senior Egyptian officials met over the weekend with Hamas figures to try to prevent further escalation in the region. "This is part of a new trend in post-Mubarak era," according to Shurab.

"The new Egyptian government's relations with Hamas are much stronger than before. Now the Egyptians has extended their hands to Hamas," Shurab said.


Dr. Shmuel Bar, director of studies at the Institute for Policy and Strategy at the Inter-Disciplinary Center in Herzliya, believes that one important obstacle to a ceasefire is that no one is in total control of Gaza.

"The situation at the moment is that Hamas doesn't have complete control. In other words, there are many factions and elements involved," Bar said, adding that the Hamas leadership, which sits in Damascus, is giving contradictory instructions to Gaza officials, further complicating the situation.

Bar argued that even if one part of Hamas wants a ceasefire, another faction doesn't, and no party has been able to impose its will on the others. "So reaching a total ceasefire is very difficult at this time," he said.

"In addition to Hamas, al-Qaida and Hezbollah are also working there," Bar said, "There are elements in Hamas that are cooperating with these groups, so there doesn't seem to be any prospect for a truce in the near future."

Hamas has been in power in Gaza since June 2007, when its forces routed Palestinian National Authority loyalists in a coup.


Asked what it takes to achieve a long-term calmness, Bar said that replacing the current Hamas rule in Gaza could lead to a more stable situation.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party intends to demand the ruling Likud party apply a clause in the coalition agreement, designating the toppling of Hamas' rule in the Gaza Strip as a strategic goal.

The issue is expected to be brought up in Yisrael Beiteinu's conference due on Wednesday, according to local Ynet news site.

However, Bar doubted that the Israeli government would try to remove Hamas, arguing that even during the Cast Lead operation, which was launched by Israel at the end of 2008 to quell the rocket fire from Gaza, Israel didn't intend to topple Hamas' rule.

Dr. Max Singer, a researcher at the Begin-Sadat Institute for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University, told Xinhua that as long as Hamas remains in power, it will be difficult to seek a long- term stability.

"In the short term it's a matter of Gazan politics. As long as Hamas remains in power and committed to destroy Israel, there will be a conflict," Singer said.


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