- The Washington Times - Monday, January 12, 2009

UPDATED:

JERUSALEM | The Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip is ready to accept a cease-fire with Israel, but the organization’s spiritual leader in Damascus, Khalid Mashaal, refuses to make the necessary concessions, according to Israeli television reports last night.

The Arab affairs analyst on Channel Two, Ehud Ya’ari, said the dispute amounts to a split between the two Hamas centers of power.

The differences emerged at a meeting over the weekend in Cairo between two Hamas representatives from Gaza and a delegation sent by Mr. Mashaal in Damascus.

They had come to hear an Egyptian cease-fire proposal outlined by Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman.

“The Gazans not only accepted it,” said Mr. Ya’ari, “they demanded it.” The delegation from Damascus, however, reiterated Mr. Mashaal’s rejection of the conditions set down in the Egyptian plan.

The Gazans traveled from Cairo to Damascus immediately after the meeting that ended early Monday to present their case to Mr. Mashaal and were to return to Cairo on Tuesday, according to the reports.

A similar report was made on state television’s Channel One by that station’s Arab affairs reporter, Oded Granot.

Otherwise, a cease-fire seemed a distant prospect as Israeli ground forces made their deepest foray yet into Gaza’s residential neighborhoods with tanks and infantry.

Hamas continued to shoot rockets at targets in Israel.

In Washington, President-elect Barack Obama said he would make progress on the Middle East peace process a priority from his first day in office.

Interviewed by ABC’s “This Week,” Mr. Obama said weeks of fighting in Gaza made him “much more determined to break a deadlock that has gone on for decades now.”

Israel’s offensive against Hamas threatens to spill over into the early days of the Obama administration if the sides don’t reach a cease-fire. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert hinted that the end might be in sight.

“Israel is nearing the goals that it set for itself,” Mr. Olmert said Sunday. “However, further patience, determination and effort are necessary in order to achieve those goals in a way that will change the security reality in the south.”

The casualty toll from the offensive continued to climb, with more than 850 Palestinians killed. Palestinian officials say about half are civilians. Thirteen Israelis have been killed.

Even though Hamas’ entire military leadership has reportedly gone into hiding, and communications between different branches have been disrupted, the organization can keep up the rocket fire on Israel for weeks, according to Israeli intelligence assessments.

Israel’s military said its aircraft bombed 60 targets around Gaza on Sunday, including 20 of the smuggling tunnels. It also claimed to have killed or wounded 40 Hamas fighters.

• Joshua Mitnick reported from Tel Aviv.


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