'Hamas accepts Gaza-first truce offer'
Khaled Abu Toameh , THE JERUSALEM POST
Apr. 24, 2008

Hamas's agreement to a cease-fire with Israel will pave the way for the release of kidnapped IDF soldier Cpl. Gilad Schalit, Hamas officials in the Gaza Strip said Thursday.

According to the officials, Hamas is keen on ending the case of Schalit soon "to create a better atmosphere" that would consolidate the cease-fire.

"If the cease-fire agreement succeeds, we will see positive developments regarding a prisoner exchange with Israel soon," the officials added. "The ball is now in the Israeli court."

Hamas informed Egypt Thursday that it was willing to accept a cease-fire with Israel in the Gaza Strip on condition that it later be extended to the West Bank.

The move marks a departure from Hamas's earlier position that a cease-fire should be "comprehensive and mutual" and include the West Bank as well as the Gaza Strip.

On Wednesday, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said there would be no cease-fire with Israel unless it also included the West Bank.

Sources close to Hamas said the movement agreed to the "Gaza first" cease-fire after receiving assurances from the Egyptians that they would continue to work toward extending the truce to the West Bank. They said Hamas was still insisting on a timetable for applying the cease-fire to the West Bank.

Hamas has also softened its position regarding control over the Rafah border crossing and is prepared to permit the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority to run the terminal, the sources said.

They added that under the terms of the understandings reached with the Egyptians, Hamas would also be allowed to send its representatives to the Rafah border crossing, which will be reopened as soon as Israel agrees to the new deal.

Hamas leaders Mahmoud Zahar and Said Siam relayed their movement's position to Egyptian Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman during a lengthy meeting in Cairo Thursday.

The two arrived in Cairo after holding consultations in Damascus with the Hamas leadership. Syria-based Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal flew Thursday to Qatar to brief Hamad bin Khalifeh al-Thani on Hamas's position on the cease-fire with Israel.

Hamas officials said the talks in Qatar also focused on ways of ending the case of Gilad Schalit The Qataris, together with the Egyptians, have been mediating over the past few months between Israel and Hamas to reach a cease-fire agreement a prisoner swap.

Meanwhile, Hamas called on the Palestinians to storm the border crossings Friday as part of an effort to end the blockade on the Gaza Strip.

Earlier this year, Hamas tried unsuccessfully to send hundreds of thousands of Palestinians toward the border crossings with Israel.

Ashraf Abu Dayyeh, a Hamas spokesman in the Gaza Strip, called for a "popular uprising" at the border crossings to demand an end to the blockade.

"We decided to declare a popular uprising in light of the continued siege imposed on the Palestinians and the growing suffering of our people, especially in the Gaza Strip," he said. "The angry masses will march toward the Bet Hanoun [Erez] checkpoint with Israel and the Rafah border crossing with Egypt immediately after Friday prayers in the mosques."

Abu Dayyeh said the Palestinians had no other choice but to "erupt" against the continued closure of the Gaza Strip. "The Palestinians, who are deprived of the basic elements of life, are going to march toward the border crossings to say that they want to live."

He said the demonstrations were aimed at sending a message to the world that the Palestinians can no longer tolerate the blockade.

Original article: Jerusalem Post
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