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One month into the truce: ceasefire on thin ice, negotiations on Shalit stalled

July 19, 2008 6:20 P.M. (Updated: July 19, 2008 6:20 P.M.)
Gaza - Ma'an - The Hamas and Islamic Jihad movements on Saturday questioned Israel's commitment to implementing the ceasefire agreement, characterising its behavior over the past month as haggling and slow.

Leaders of both movements stressed to Ma'an that they are still committed to the ceasefire agreement, in an effort to bolster its chances of success.

"About a month into the ceasefire agreement, Israel is haggling over implementation of its articles, despite the Palestinian commitment to it," said senior Islamic Jihad leader Nafith Azzam.

He explained, "Israel has not allowed goods to enter the Gaza Strip to the extent decided, and they have not opened the crossing points as agreed. Instead there have been numerous Israeli violations. In general, we can say that there have been few noticeable changes on the ground for Palestinians."

"There should be serious Egyptian intervention to force Israel to change its policy, and Palestinian factions must thoroughly evaluate the ceasefire period," Azzam added.

He also explained that nothing has changed regarding the Rafah crossing, which has increased the feeling among Palestinians that the ceasefire has brought no substantive benefits.

As for future steps, Azzam said, "Islamic Jihad will comprehensively reassess the past month together with Hamas and the other Palestinian factions, and we will intensify our contacts with the Egyptians to urge them to pressure Israel to end the siege, open the crossings, and stop its aggression."

If Israel continues to close the border crossings, Azzam said, "We are not alone in the Palestinian arena in our conviction that Israel is not seriously addressing the Egyptian efforts. Consultations between the Palestinian factions and the Egyptians are necessary to reach a common vision for the next stage of ceasefire."

Regarding the prospects for inter-Palestinian dialogue, Azzam affirmed there have been no tangible steps to translate the optimism that prevailed among Palestinians over the past few weeks into reality. He noted that the internal rivalry and divisions have harmed all Palestinians, and that all the parties are now convinced that dialogue is a necessity and in their interests as well as the interest of the Palestinian people. He called for Arab intervention to activate president Abbas' call for dialogue, and urged Hamas to cooperate with the initiative.

"Egypt might be more influential in this regard because several rounds of talks were held in Cairo, but that does not mean other Arab countries should not play effective roles, such as Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen," added Azzam.

For his part, the spokesperson of the Hamas-affiliated Al-Qassam Brigades, Abu Ubayda, confirmed that his movement continued to adhere to ceasefire, but warned that new confrontations with Israeli forces remained a possibility. "We informed the Egyptians that we are not satisfied with Israel's implementation of its ceasefire commitments, and requested that they warn the Israeli authorities that the situation could return to the way it was previously," he explained.

Abu Ubayda also affirmed that negotiations with Israel over captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit have been suspended, stressing that Shalit's case is not connected with the ceasefire, and that Hamas had merely promised Egyptian negotiators to open discussions on Shalit if Israel abided by all its ceasefire commitments.

Abu Ubayda objected to Israel using the ceasefire and crossing points as bargaining points to continue negotiations on Shalit, saying, "Whatever pressures they might exert in order to move the Shalit case forward, they will not succeed because the ceasefire track is completely different, and Shalit's case is more difficult and hinges on releasing Palestinian prisoners."

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