dinsdag 11 maart 2008

Geen staakt-het-vuren met Hamas

Er is geen staakt-het-vuren, maar er zijn wel een soort van onofficiële afspraken om elkaar niet aan te vallen. Door het onofficiële karakter kunnen ze ook niet worden geschonden en houden beide partijen dus de handen vrij om te doen wat men wil. Het is de snelste en makkelijkste manier om (relatieve) rust te bieden aan de 250.000 mensen die binnen het bereik van de raketten leven, maar, zoals een regeringsfunctionaris zegt, het helpt Israël niet om het probleem op te lossen. Hamas gaat door met de wapensmokkel en juist als er rust is zal de druk op Egypte daar wat aan te doen afnemen. Bovendien worden Hamas activisten in Iran getraind in guerrilla taktieken a la Hezbollah. De tijdelijke rust is dan ook verraderlijk, of, zoals een Israëlische vriend het uitdrukt: Truce now, die later

Mon., March 10, 2008 Haaretz
PM: There's no cease-fire agreement with Hamas
By Barak Ravid and Amos Harel, Haaretz Correspondents, Haaretz Service and Agencies

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Monday denied a cease-fire agreement with Hamas, even though Qassam fire and Israel Defense Forces strikes have subsided recently.

Coming out of a meeting with the Czech prime minister, Olmert said that "there is no cease-fire agreement with Hamas, and nor are there direct or indirect talks."

Similarly, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that Israel would continue to operate against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

"The fighting is ongoing and will continue and will at times increase and decrease," he said.

"There is not at this point any agreement," Barak said. "But if today people go to school in Ashkelon without Grad-type [rockets], or sit in Sderot and Sapir College without Qassams, I wouldn't propose complaining about any quiet day, but at any moment in which we need to act, we will."

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri also said Monday that no comprehensive cease-fire had been reached. Hamas officials said their leaders would, however, continue Egyptian-led efforts to secure a truce.

The government recently ordered the IDF to exercise restraint in operations in the Gaza Strip, pursuant to what a senior government official termed new rules of the game forged in the aftermath of last week's military operation in Gaza.

The official credited these rules, under which Israel will not attack Gaza as long as Hamas does not fire at Israel, with the recent lull in violence. Yet at the same time, he charged, they completely contradict last week's cabinet decision, which stated that Israel should keep up the military pressure on Hamas.

The volume of rocket fire from Gaza has declined sharply in recent days: Since last Friday, Palestinians have fired only three Qassam rockets at Israel, compared to some 50 a day during the previous week. The IDF, for its part, has withdrawn all ground troops from the Strip and also halted aerial assaults.

The government official stressed that there is no formal agreement with Hamas. Rather, he said, unofficial rules were formulated during U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's visit last week, via a series of messages, both open and secret, exchanged by Israel and Hamas.

Rice apparently relayed a proposal for resuming the lull that Hamas had transmitted via Egypt, and on her departure last Wednesday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert responded publicly, saying: "If they don't fire Qassams at us, we won't attack in Gaza." Since then, both sides have sharply reduced the volume of fire.

A military source said that while the rules of engagement in Gaza have not officially been altered, "the general trend was made clear to us. For now, we are not really fighting Hamas. There is restraint, even if undeclared. Where things are really heading, we'll know only later."

The senior government official said that in effect, the unofficial ground rules covered three possible scenarios:

* If the rocket fire stops completely, so will IDF operations in Gaza.

* If Palestinians fire only at Sderot and other communities near Gaza, Israel will respond primarily with aerial assaults.

* If rockets hit Ashkelon, Israel will respond with ground operations like last week's, in which over 100 Palestinians were killed.

However, the official warned, "beyond the temporary lull, the new tacit arrangement does not advance Israel toward its goals." This arrangement, he added, "completely contradicts the cabinet's decision [of last week], without proper procedure or cabinet approval."

That decision called for continuing the military pressure on Hamas, in an effort to stop both the rocket fire and the organization's ongoing arms build-up.

"It's very unfortunate," the official added. "We don't gain anything by this. How will this prevent the next clash, or the resumption of Grad [rocket] fire on Ashkelon? Tomorrow, there could be 60 Qassams on Sderot, and we have not advanced one centimeter toward achieving the goals we set for ourselves in the cabinet."

In particular, the official said, the new "rules of the game" do nothing to prevent Hamas's ongoing arms build-up. "Now that a lull has been achieved in practice, the Egyptians have gotten what they want, so they have no motivation to take action against the [arms] smuggling," he argued. "Our lever for pressure has been greatly weakened."

But the Prime Minister's Office denied that any arrangement with Hamas existed. "We hold to our position that if they don't shoot at us, we won't shoot back," a senior official in the office said.

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