Gaza ceasefire hopes rise after Hamas abandons key demands | THE GUARDIAN

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Gaza ceasefire hopes rise after Hamas abandons key demands | Avi Melamed quoted in this article by Jason Burke in Jerusalem for the GUARDIAN | March 16, 2024.

The strike against Issa, one of the key organisers of the 7 October attack launched by Hamas on Israel, suggests Israel is getting information from a source high in the organisation, experts said.

“Israel would have needed to know where and when Issa was hiding, that he would remain there with time for the cabinet to approve and [Israeli’s military] to launch the operation, and would have needed to confirm that no Israeli captives were being held near him as human shields – something that could have only been confirmed via a human asset,” said Avi Melamed, a former Israeli intelligence official and regional analyst.


Israeli negotiators are heading to Qatar after the group dropped calls for a permanent end to hostilities and agreed a 40-day pause

Israeli negotiators are expected to arrive in Qatar on Sunday amid intense new efforts to bring the war in Gaza to at least a temporary halt, after Hamas abandoned key ceasefire demands last week following a series of setbacks.

In recent days, the militant organisation has been disappointed by the failure of its calls for a wave of protest during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, angered by the appointment without consultation of a new prime minister by the Palestinian Authority (PA) and suffered the possible death of a key military commander in an Israeli airstrike in Gaza.

On Friday, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, said he had approved plans for a military assault on Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city, which is Hamas’s last main stronghold but also now home to more than 1 million people, mostly displaced from elsewhere in the territory.

The developments have weakened Hamas’s negotiating position even as casualties continue to rise in Gaza and global outrage continues to grow. On Saturday, ministry of health officials in the territory, which Hamas has ruled since 2007, said the total number of deaths since the beginning of the Israeli offensive had reached 31,490, mostly women and children.

Sources close to Hamas said its leaders now recognise that they need to show Palestinians “a big victory” to avoid a popular backlash after the immense destruction and loss of lives in five months of war.

“They know now that they need to demonstrate that they are really on the side of the people,” said one source.

Though the militant Islamist organisation is sticking to its demand for the release of between about 500 and 1,000 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails in return for 40 of more than 100 Israeli hostages that it is thought to be holding in Gaza, it has dropped a demand for a permanent ceasefire and has said it will accept a 40-day initial pause in hostilities.

Sami Abu Zuhri, a senior Hamas official, said on Friday that Netanyahu was “not interested in reaching an agreement”.

Israeli officials now believe that Marwan Issa, the deputy military leader of Hamas in Gaza, died in an airstrike a week ago that targeted a tunnel complex under the Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza. All Hamas communications systems between senior leaders – which rely on encrypted apps and couriers – went silent for more than 72 hours after the strike, as has happened on several previous occasions when senior Hamas leaders have been killed.

The strike against Issa, one of the key organisers of the 7 October attack launched by Hamas on Israel, suggests Israel is getting information from a source high in the organisation, experts said.

“Israel would have needed to know where and when Issa was hiding, that he would remain there with time for the cabinet to approve and [Israeli’s military] to launch the operation, and would have needed to confirm that no Israeli captives were being held near him as human shields – something that could have only been confirmed via a human asset,” said Avi Melamed, a former Israeli intelligence official and regional analyst.

Hamas killed about 1,160 Israelis, mostly civilians, on 7 October and took approximately 250 hostages, of whom about half were released during a week-long ceasefire in November in exchange for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners. Thirty or more might have died in captivity.

Hamas has also demanded a withdrawal of all Israeli troops from Gaza, more humanitarian aid to be allowed into the territory and the return of displaced residents to its north, which has been devastated by the Israeli offensive. Israel has called the proposal “unrealistic”, but observers noted this was more moderate language than previously.

The negotiations have divided Hamas, sources in touch with the organisation and analysts said. The principal split is between its leaders in Gaza, who planned last year’s attack, and those in exile in Qatar, Turkey and other Middle Eastern countries, who were warned only that a big operation was imminent but were not told of its details.

“It seems apparent that there are tensions within the movement. There have always been different factions … but this has clearly been exacerbated since October,” said Hugh Lovatt, of the European Council on Foreign Relations.

Hamas’s political leadership outside Gaza is thinking carefully about what comes after any ceasefire, and could accept a plan for the PA, which partially governs the occupied West Bank, to assume responsibility for administering Gaza after the war as part of a broader Palestinian political agreement.

“But that’s not where the hardliners are and the external political wing can’t act without the consent of the Gaza-based leadership. They are very much in control because they are on the ground,” said Lovatt.

In recent months, Hamas has sought to improve relations with Fatah, the long-term rival faction that is dominant in the PA, by including its leaders among those whose freedom it is demanding from Israel. One is Marwan Barghouti, one of the most popular politicians among Palestinians, who has spent more than 20 years in prison and is seen as a potential presidential candidate.

“A credible [ceasefire agreement] has to deal with prisoners as Palestinian national fighters, not as members of different groups,” said Qadura Fares, the PA’s minister of prisoner affairs.

On Friday, Hamas issued a statement that was fiercely critical of the PA, after its president, Mahmoud Abbas, appointed a new prime minister without consulting the group.

Hamas accused Abbas of “making individual decisions, and engaging in formal steps that are devoid of substance [and] without national consensus” and so reinforcing “a policy of exclusion and the deepening of division”.

In response, Fatah complained that Hamas had not “consulted” other Palestinian factions before launching its attack last year and accused the Islamist movement of “having caused a … catastrophe even more horrible and cruel than that of 1948” – a reference to the displacement and expulsion of about 760,000 Palestinians from their lands during the wars surrounding the creation of Israel.

“The real disconnection from reality and the Palestinian people is that of the Hamas leadership,” said Fatah.

Analysts said that Fatah’s fierce criticism would resonate with many Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.

“The largest amount of anger from the Palestinians is clearly at the Israelis, but after that, there is probably a lot of ire aimed at Hamas, because the October attack gave the excuse to the Israelis to carry out this bombardment of Gaza. It’s hard to see anything since as a success for the day-to-day lives of Palestinians,” said HA Hellyer, senior associate fellow at London’s Royal United Services Institute.

So far, Hamas calls for massive protests in the West Bank and East Jerusalem during Ramadan have gone unheeded. More than 60,000 attended prayers on Friday at al-Aqsa mosque on the Haram al-Sharif, the raised compound in the heart of Jerusalem’s Old City, which is known as the Temple Mount to Jewish people and is sacred to both faiths.

“I prayed for a better life for all of us, for peace, for a change,” said Ahmed Ali, 70, as he left the Old City of Jerusalem after prayers on Friday.


Gaza ceasefire hopes rise after Hamas abandons key demands | Avi Melamed quoted in this article by Jason Burke in Jerusalem for the GUARDIAN | March 16, 2024.

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Avi Melamed
Avi Melamedhttps://insidethemiddle-east.com
Avi Melamed is an expert on current affairs in the Arab & Muslim World and their impact on Israel & the Middle East. A former Israeli Intelligence Official & Senior Official on Arab Affairs, Fluent in Arabic, English, and Hebrew, he has held high-risk Government, Senior Advisory, Intelligence & Counter-Terrorist intelligence positions in Arab cities & communities - often in very sensitive times - on behalf of Israeli Government agencies. He is the Founder & CEO of Inside the Middle East | Intelligence Perspectives - an apolitical non-partisan curriculum using intelligence methodology to examine the Middle East. As an Author, Educator, Expert, and Strategic Intelligence Analyst, Avi provides Intelligence Analysis, Briefings, and Geopolitical Tours to diplomats, Israeli and foreign policymakers, global media outlets, and a wide variety of international businesses, organizations, and private clients on a range of Israel and Middle East Affairs.

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