CAIRO: A dozen small Palestinian factions gave their tentative approval Wednesday to a cease-fire with Israel in an Egyptian attempt to mediate the deal. The militant group Hamas said it was now up to Israel to sign on to halt violence in and around the Gaza Strip.
The development came shortly before an Israeli aircraft attacked a metal workshop in the southern part of the Gaza Strip, killing one person and wounding three others, Palestinian officials said. Such workshops are often used by militants to make homemade rockets, which Hamas has lobbed into Israel.
The Israeli army confirmed the airstrike in Rafah, a town located next to the Egyptian border. The Islamic Jihad militant group – one of the groups meeting in Cairo – identified the dead man as one of its local commanders.
Egypt has been leading attempts to mediate a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, the main Palestinian militant group, which controls Gaza. Wednesday s meeting aimed at bringing smaller Palestinian factions into any potential deal.
Hamas said last week that it would be prepared to accept a six-month cease-fire with Israel only in Gaza, and dropped an earlier demand that any truce immediately include the West Bank as well.
The 12 Palestinian groups meeting Wednesday included Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees, as well as secular leftist groups, but not Hamas. These factions have carried out some attacks on Israel in recent months, but to a lesser degree than Hamas.
After a series of meetings here with Egypt s intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, the groups said they agreed in principle to a cease-fire but still had reservations over the details. In particular, they want it to include the West Bank, not just Gaza.
It remained unclear whether the factions – which don t include the two main Palestinian groups, Hamas and Fatah – would ultimately reject a final deal if it didn t include the West Bank, governed by the more moderate Fatah.
The Palestinian announcement was depicted by Egypt as a success toward an eventual agreement. The formula Egypt is trying to put together includes a six-month truce between Israel and the Gaza Strip, an exchange of prisoners and the opening of Gaza s border crossings.
Israeli Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit on Thursday insisted the Egyptian-mediated Gaza truce proposal must be rejected, claiming that Hamas would only use it to boost its military capabilities.
No deal whatsoever should be reached with Hamas, because this terrorist movement would exploit any truce to gain strength, perfect its weapons and prepare for the next confrontation, Sheetrit, a member of the security cabinet, told public radio.
We must break Hamas, not hold negotiations with them, because their demands are unacceptable, he said. The armed forces must attack those terrorists night and day to break their arms and their legs.
Shortly before the Israeli airstrike, Hamas said in a statement that it welcomed the unified position of the Palestinian factions, while Hamas prime minister in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, said the ball is in the Israeli court.
We hope that there is going to be a chance that might bring calm and stability to the region on the basis toward establishing a Palestinian state and ending the occupation, Haniyeh said.
He said the factions in Egypt agreed to a mutual, comprehensive calm starting in Gaza, then in the West Bank, with Egyptian supervision, in return for ending the [Israeli] aggression and stopping the siege and the blockade and the collective punishment imposed on our people.
Anwar Raja of the Syria-based Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General-Command, which was involved in Wednesday s discussions in Cairo, said the factions agreed to the idea of a truce even though it was surrounded by dangers and regardless of [differences about] the details.
Mohammed Al-Baba, a leading member of the Popular Resistance Committees, said that during his meeting with Suleiman, several Palestinian factions pushed for the cease-fire to last less than six months and cover both Gaza and the West Bank.
A high ranking Egyptian official was quoted by the state MENA news agency as saying that the truce will start with Gaza and eventually move to the West Bank, but did not indicate the length of the cease-fire, suggesting differences remain.
Ramzi Rabah, a senior member of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which also participated in Cairo talks, said a truce would be vulnerable to collapse if implemented only partially on Palestinian territories.
A comprehensive truce would guarantee that the occupying forces [Israel] wouldn t have a free hand in the West Bank, Rabah added.
Raja warned Israel that a cease-fire in Gaza would not give it immunity from Palestinian rocket attacks if the Jewish state continued aggression against the West Bank. Most of the Palestinian attacks against Israel come from Gaza, not the West Bank.
While battling Hamas in Gaza, Israel has been conducting peace talks with the rival Palestinian government of President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank.