“Contrary to Israel’s argument that it was forced to launch its air and ground offensive against Gaza in order to stop the firing of rockets into its territory, Hamas proposed in mid-December to return to the original Hamas-Israel ceasefire arrangement, according to a U.S.-based source who has been briefed on the proposal.
The proposal to renew the ceasefire was presented by a high-level Hamas delegation to Egyptian Minister of Intelligence Omar Suleiman at a meeting in Cairo Dec. 14. The delegation, said to have included Moussa Abu Marzouk, the second-ranking official in the Hamas political bureau in Damascus, told Suleiman that Hamas was prepared to stop all rocket attacks against Israel if the Israelis would open up the Gaza border crossings and pledge not to launch attacks in Gaza.
The Hamas officials insisted that Israel not be allowed to close or reduce commercial traffic through border crossings for political purposes, as it had done during the six-month lull, according to the source. They asked Suleiman, who had served as mediator between Israel and Hamas in negotiating the original six-month Gaza ceasefire last spring, to “put pressure” on Israel to take that the ceasefire proposal seriously.
Suleiman said he could not pressure Israel but could only make the suggestion to Israeli officials. It could not be learned, however, whether Israel explicitly rejected the Hamas proposal or simply refused to respond to Egypt.
The readiness of Hamas to return to the ceasefire conditionally in mid-December was confirmed by Dr. Robert Pastor, a professor at American University and senior adviser to the Carter Centre, who met with Khaled Meshal, chairman of the Hamas political bureau in Damascus on Dec. 14, along with former President Jimmy Carter. Pastor told IPS that Meshal indicated Hamas was willing to go back to the ceasefire that had been in effect up to early November “if there was a sign that Israel would lift the siege on Gaza”.
Pastor said he passed Meshal’s statement on to a “senior official” in the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) the day after the meeting with Meshal. According to Pastor, the Israeli official said he would get back to him, but did not.
“There was an alternative to the military approach to stopping the rockets,” said Pastor. He added that Israel is unlikely to have an effective ceasefire in Gaza unless it agrees to lift the siege.”