Hamas chief: Israel ignoring cease-fire terms for Gaza

International

Hamas’ chief Ismail Haniyeh attends a meeting with foreign reporters at al-Mat’haf hotel in Gaza City, Thursday, June 20, 2019. Hamas’ chief says Israel is ignoring the terms of an indirect cease-fire agreement for the Gaza Strip. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Hamas’ chief Ismail Haniyeh on Thursday accused Israel of dragging its feet in carrying out its obligations under an indirect cease-fire for the Gaza Strip, saying the fragile deal was in danger of collapsing.

Speaking to international journalists, Haniyeh said the 2 million residents of Gaza “have not felt” any improvement in their living condition, despite what he said were Israeli pledges to ease a crippling blockade on the territory. The unofficial truce was brokered by Egypt, Qatar and the U.N. after a round of heavy fighting in May.

“The understanding (is) in the danger zone because (Israel) doesn’t implement its obligations and deals with them with mood swings,” Haniyeh told reporters in Gaza City in a two-hour meeting organized by the Jerusalem-based Foreign Press Association. He called the deal “wobbly.”

Israel declined to comment on the accusation.

Israel and Egypt imposed the blockade after the Islamic militant group violently seized control of the coastal Palestinian enclave in 2007. Israel considers Hamas a terrorist group and says the blockade is needed to keep the group from arming.

Haniyeh acknowledged that outcomes of the closures were “disastrous” in terms of travel restrictions, unemployment and shortage of power and clean water. He accused Israel and the rival Palestinian Authority in the West Bank of compounding the problem.

Asked why Hamas won’t talk directly to Israel for a better chance to implement the deal, Haniyeh said his group, which was founded on the goal of destroying Israel, has “obstructive lines on talking directly to the Israeli occupation.”

“Negotiations between you and your enemy in principle is not a mistake, but at this time, with these conditions, it’s a national crime if you do it,” he said. He said the Palestinian Authority’s 25 years of one-off talks with Israel had resulted in more Israeli settlement in the West Bank and failed to grant the Palestinians an independent state.

With conditions worsening, Hamas has staged mass protests along Gaza-Israel frontier since March 2018 in an attempt to ease the blockade. More than 200 Palestinians and an Israeli soldier were killed in the context of the marches, but the blockade remains in place.

Hamas and Israel have fought three wars and numerous smaller flareups over the past decade. The informal understandings are aimed at preventing another war by keeping things quiet and easing the blockade.

Haniyeh accused Israel of delaying pledges to increase power supplies to Gaza, merely narrowing a long list of banned materials and several times preventing fishermen from sailing at all instead of expanding the permittable fishing zone as agreed. He added that U.N.-sponsored job-creation programs to alleviate Gaza’s unemployment, now more than 50%, have benefited just 3,500 Palestinians, short of the target of 40,000.

Israel says Hamas, which has largely restrained the protests, continues to fire incendiary balloons to torch farmlands in southern Israel and keeps “rioting” along the volatile frontier. It says its troops open fire to defend a sovereign border and accuses Hamas of using the crowds as cover to stage attacks.

Haniyeh said Hamas is “95% committed” to the truce and those who fire the balloons were “children.”

Meanwhile, Haniyeh said Palestinian factions will hold massive demonstrations on the eve of a workshop Washington is organizing in the Bahraini capital, Manama, next week. There, the Trump administration is expected to reveal the economic part of its long-awaited plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Palestinians reject both schemes, saying they favor Israel and won’t achieve the Palestinian statehood goals, especially after Washington recognized contested Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last year and signs that the U.S. has no objection to Israel annexing parts of the West Bank.

“We reject the Manama conference and refuse to commute the Palestinian cause from political to humanitarian,’ Haniyeh said. He appealed to the Bahraini king to “take a brave, strong, authentic, Arab decision not to host this workshop.” He also issued the same appeal for Arab states planning to attend.

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