Wednesday 22 November 2017

'There will be no truce unless Gaza siege is lifted'

Ruth Sherlock and Carol Malouf

Hamas has ruled out a ceasefire deal unless Israel "lifts the siege" on Gaza.

Khaled Meshaal, the organisation's political chief, in his first interview since the latest conflict in Gaza began, said his organisation will not accept a simple cessation of fire by both sides, but only a deal that includes long-term commitments to improve the "rights of the Palestinian people".

With mediators gathered in Cairo in an effort to find a solution to a conflict that has already led to the deaths of more than 200 Palestinians in Israeli air strikes, Mr Meshaal, for the first time, laid out the demands of his organisation.

He said Israel must "stop the aggression" of air strikes against targets in Gaza, release the dozens of Palestinians detained in response to last month's kidnapping and murder of three Israeli students in the West Bank, and "end the siege on Gaza permanently".

"These are our clear demands," said Mr Meshaal.

"We won't accept an agreement that prolongs the suffering of our people any more.

"In Gaza, for the past seven years of siege, its 1.8 million people have been living in a prison."

The demands go much further than a return to the truce brokered in Cairo in 2012, to put an end to eight days of fighting in the Gaza Strip.

That truce included a pledge to open a border crossing, intending to ease the blockade of the coastal enclave.

Yesterday, Mr Meshaal said an easing of the restrictions was no longer acceptable and that Hamas would stop at nothing short of a "full and permanent" lifting of the blockade as well as regulating the traffic of people and goods at the border.

Since General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, who considers Hamas a terrorist organisation, became president of Egypt earlier this year, Gaza's Rafah border crossing with its neighbour has also remained mostly closed.

Mr Sisi also blocked tunnels between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, which had become a vital supply line, both of goods for civilians which are banned under the blockade and weapons for armed groups.

Mr Meshaal refused to expand on the details of how the siege would be lifted, saying that it was being discussed by mediators privately.

Mr Meshaal remained defiant over Hamas's decision to continue firing rockets into Israel. When asked whether firing the rockets, which are largely ineffective in the face of Israel's protective Iron Dome shield, was worthwhile in the face of so many Palestinian deaths, Mr Meshaal said: "If the rockets are not effective, why is the international community pushing for a ceasefire?" (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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