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Hamas refusal to disarm shakes Gaza peace prospects

A wheelchair is seen as Palestinians stand atop the ruins of the headquarters of Al-Wafa rehabilitation hospital, which was destroyed during a seven-week Israeli offensive, in the east of Gaza City August 28, 2014. (REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa)

GAZA CITY, Palestine: Prospects of a final deal on a long-term Gaza truce between Israel and Hamas were seen as shaky Friday after its leader ruled out Israeli demands to disarm the Palestinian militant group.

"The weapons of the resistance are sacred and we will not accept that they be on the agenda" of future negotiations with Israel, the exiled Meshaal told a news conference Thursday in Doha.

Israel has consistently linked the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip, devastated during its 50-day war with Hamas that ended last Tuesday, to the territory's demilitarization.

"It has become abundantly clear that unless Hamas is disarmed and its tools of control removed, there can be no peace and security for either Israelis or Palestinians," Israel's Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman warned, quoted on his ministry's website.

France's President Francois Hollande also backs the disarmament of the coastal strip where Hamas is de facto ruler.

"Gaza can no longer be an army base for Hamas, or an open-air prison for its inhabitants. One should move towards a progressive lifting of the blockade and the demilitarization of the territory," he told French diplomats Thursday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is claiming victory over the Palestinian militants.

"Hamas was hit very hard and there is here a military achievement of the highest order, as well as a diplomatic achievement because they dropped all of their demands," he told a visiting delegation from the U.S. House of Representatives Armed Services Committee.

"They got to this point the hard way. They kept testing us and every time we struck them but the last time, given this accumulation of blows, they were persuaded," he said.

But talks on crunch issues such as Hamas' demands for a port and an airport and the release of prisoners, as well as Israel's calls to disarm militant groups, have been put on hold until negotiators return to Cairo within a month.

Meshaal said his group's weaponry "guarantees that our demands will not be overlooked," although he acknowledged that not all its conditions for a cease-fire had been met.

"Not all our demands have been satisfied... but an important part," he said, referring to the easing of Israel's blockade of the impoverished territory.

Both Israel and Hamas have hailed the truce as a "victory."

The seven-week conflict claimed the lives of at least 2,140 Palestinians, more than 70 percent of them civilians according to the United Nations, and 65 soldiers and six civilians on the Israeli side.

An Israeli soldier seriously wounded by rocket fire in southern Israel a week ago died of his injuries Friday, the army said in a statement.

Political analyst Shimon Shiffer, writing in top-selling newspaper Yediot Aharonot, said Israeli hopes that Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas could carve out a strong role in post-war Gaza were unlikely to be realized.

Netanyahu, he wrote, will "have to get used to negotiating on arrangements with Meshaal, whether he likes it or not."

A poll published Friday in Israel's Maariv newspaper indicated that 58 percent of Jewish Israelis regard the current open-ended cease-fire as a mistake.

Only 33 percent believed it would help bring about a negotiated Gaza settlement, in the poll, for which the number of respondents and margin of error were not given.

Israel HaYom freesheet, seen as close to Netanyahu, said that continued Egyptian-mediated talks with Hamas would have to balance toughness with incentives.

"Hamas did not surrender," it wrote. "To deny it any motivation to fire again...Israel should combine carrots and sticks."

"It should be generous in opening the crossings and the passage for goods so that it will be clear to Hamas what it stands to lose, and it should be clear about the immediate meaning of the violation of the cease-fire - a return to warfare."

 

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Summary

Prospects of a final deal on a long-term Gaza truce between Israel and Hamas were seen as shaky Friday after its leader ruled out Israeli demands to disarm the Palestinian militant group.

Israel has consistently linked the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip, devastated during its 50-day war with Hamas that ended last Tuesday, to the territory's demilitarization.

France's President Francois Hollande also backs the disarmament of the coastal strip where Hamas is de facto ruler.

Talks on crunch issues such as Hamas' demands for a port and an airport and the release of prisoners, as well as Israel's calls to disarm militant groups, have been put on hold until negotiators return to Cairo within a month.

Both Israel and Hamas have hailed the truce as a "victory".


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