- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 24, 2008

GAZA CITY, Gaza | Ahmad Yousef is a relative moderate in Hamas, a man who argued for the cease-fire with Israel that went into effect last month. But Mr. Yousef, a foreign-affairs adviser to de facto Gaza prime minister Ismail Haniyeh, is increasingly frustrated and warning that Hamas’ patience is wearing thin.

“I don’t know what game the Israelis are playing, but quite frankly, if the siege isn’t lifted, and Gaza’s borders remain closed, the cease-fire can go to hell,” Mr. Yousef told the Middle East Times.

Although Israel has opened Gaza’s borders intermittently following the announcement of the cease-fire and allowed a trickle of goods through, the territory remains virtually sealed.

This has exacerbated the chronic humanitarian conditions on the ground owing to shortages of fuel, food, medicines and construction material.

Furthermore, vital spare parts for machinery needed to keep the strip’s infrastructure working, such as water-treatment and waste-management plants, are not able to be replaced or repaired.

Israel said it had reclosed the crossings after a number of missile attacks from Gaza in violation of the painstakingly negotiated cease-fire that involved patience on behalf of Egypt, which acted as an arbitrator between the Jewish state and the Islamic resistance movement.

The Qassam rocket attacks were themselves in response to Israeli violations, which included a number of shootings at Gazan farmers and other Palestinian civilians, who Israel claimed got too close to the border fence, according to the United Nations.

These shootings resulted in the serious injury of several civilians and the death of a militant.

Islamic Jihad was responsible for the first barrage of rockets fired at Israel after the start of the truce. This followed a provocative raid by Israeli soldiers in the West Bank, which left one Hamas and one Islamic Jihad fighter dead, fatally shot at close range, according to news reports.

The last volley of missiles aimed at Israel was fired by the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, an offshoot of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement.

“The shooting of Qassams into Israel only took place at the beginning of the truce. Since then we have arrested some resistance fighters for either breaking or attempting to break the truce,” Mr. Yousef said.

“Additionally, the Israelis have violated the truce themselves on a number of occasions, and they are not allowing in sufficient goods. It does not appear to me that Israel is seriously committed to the halting of hostilities,” he said.

“People don’t see any of the fruits resulting from the cease-fire, and their patience can only last so long,” Mr. Yousef told the Middle East Times.

An editorial in the influential Israeli daily Ha’aretz reasoned that it was important to “distinguish between the aims that were set and the ability to fulfill all of them at once.”

“When Israel decided to sign the cease-fire agreement with Hamas and the other Palestinian organizations, the working assumption was that those organizations would honor their commitment and compel other splinter organizations to keep the same commitment, even by force.

“Hamas has kept its commitment thus far. The Hamas mufti has called anyone who fires a Qassam a ‘criminal’ and its leadership is declaring that the Qassams damage Palestinian interests,” added the editorial.

Both Hamas and Israel have a great interest in maintaining the cease-fire, even though there are criminal gangs, and elements within rival Fatah - which is still smarting following its military defeat by Hamas forces in Gaza last year - to torpedo the agreement in an effort to both undermine and embarrass Hamas.

Even though Israel could claim that any elements in Gaza breaking the cease-fire are the problem of Hamas alone, Israeli security would have been aware from the beginning of the difficulties facing the Islamic resistance organization.

The Israeli government is also under renewed pressure, especially in light of the recent prisoner swap with Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement, to secure the release of Israeli soldier Cpl. Gilad Shalit, who was captured by Gazan resistance fighters over two years ago and remains in captivity today.

Asked if Israel’s continued closure of the borders, through which the desperately needed humanitarian aid is delivered, could be a means of pressuring the guerrilla group into showing more flexibility in regard to the stalled prisoner swap, Mr. Yousef wouldn’t say that there was a direct connection.

He reaffirmed that Israel’s refusal to release 450 core prisoners, whom the Israelis contend “have blood on their hands” was, in his opinion and that of Hamas, unacceptable.

However, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri drew a direct connection.

“Hamas has decided to suspend negotiations for the release of Shalit because of the closure,” he said.

Another round of talks on freeing Cpl. Shalit in return for the freeing of some of the more than 10,000 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails, many without being brought to trial, was meant to have taken place last Saturday in Cairo.

But unless either side is willing to show more flexibility, or a weary and wary Egypt can breathe new life into the deal, it appears this particular chapter of Israel’s prisoner-swap story is not about to have the same successful outcome that its prisoner swap with Hezbollah did.

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