Hamas rejects disarmament proposals as cease-fire deadline looms
Palestinian Hamas supporters gather for a rally in Gaza City, Gaza Strip, Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014. Thursday's rally drew several thousand supporters and a senior Hamas official has told supporters at the rally that the war with Israel won't be over until the group's political demands are met. Israel and Hamas were holding indirect negotiations in Cairo, Egypt about new border arrangements for blockaded Gaza and extending a cease-fire. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
GAZA CITY, Gaza City — With a deadline looming hours away, Hamas on Thursday rejected Israeli demands it disarm and threatened to resume its rocket attacks if its demands for lifting a crippling blockade on Gaza were not met.
The hard-line stance, voiced by senior Hamas official Mushir al-Masri at the group’s first rally since a cease-fire in the Gaza war took effect on Tuesday, signaled that indirect negotiations in Cairo over a permanent truce in Gaza were not making headway. It was an ominous sign ahead of today’s expiration of a temporary three-day truce that ended a month of fighting.
A text message from Hamas’ military wing, the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, warned there would be no extension of the cease-fire if there was no agreement to permanently lift the blockade enforced by Israel and Egypt since the militant group overran Gaza in 2007.
Abu Obeida, the al-Qassam spokesman, appeared on the group’s Al-Aqsa TV station and said Hamas was “ready to go to war again.” He threatened to launch a long-term war of attrition that would cripple life in Israel’s big cities and disrupt air traffic at Israel’s international airport in Tel Aviv. He also appealed to Hamas negotiators in Egypt not to accept an extension of the cease-fire without an agreement on lifting the blockade. “The resistance is capable of imposing its conditions.”
A security official in Egypt said Egyptian negotiators were struggling to bring the two sides closer together, with one official saying Hamas and other Gaza militants were refusing to compromise. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed a tough reaction if Hamas renews hostilities.
“They might reject an extension. If they attack us, we’ll respond in kind, as any government would,” he told Germany’s ZDF television.
“Our fingers are on the trigger and our rockets are trained at Tel Aviv,” al-Masri told the rally.
Cairo has been mediating indirect talks between Israel and Hamas on extending the 72-hour cease-fire that expires Friday morning. Addressing communities in southern Israel close to Gaza, an area that suffered the most from Hamas rockets, he said: “You are advised not to return to your homes ... Netanyahu is gambling with your lives for political gain.”
An EU proposal to help end the Gaza conflict has, meanwhile, been gaining traction across Europe. The proposal calls for reopening an EU monitoring mission along the Gaza-Egypt border.
In addition, the international community should help build a Gaza seaport for goods and passengers, with international inspection points both in Gaza and in a transit harbor in Larnaca, Cyprus, to make sure weapons do not get smuggled in, said an official with access to deliberations of European diplomats in the region. The Cyprus government has said it could be used as “a repository” destined for Gaza.