http://www.debka.com/article.php?aid=1372

 

DEBKAfile Special Analysis
January 10, 2009

               

 

Meshaal acts to torpedo Cairo ceasefire talks.

Iranian-Hizballah rescue pledge for Hamas suspected

 

In an edgy, emotional speech over Damascus TV, Hamas’ Damascus leader Khaled Meshaal dropped a bomb on the Cairo ceasefire talks attended Saturday, Jan. 10, by the heads of Gaza’s embattled Hamas faction, just when they were on the point of unconditionally accepting a ceasefire based on Egyptian and European proposals. He declared Hamas must fight on until Israel ended its 15-day military offensive and lifted its blockade against the Gaza Strip. International monitors would be deemed “an occupation force.”


DEBKAfile reports concern in Jerusalem that Meshaal may have received pledges from Iran and Hizballah to rescue Hamas from its straits in Gaza. But by shutting the door on a ceasefire, he has forced the Israeli cabinet to opt for escalation.The Hamas leader spoke amid spreading Hamas desertions in Gaza and a senior Israeli military source’s disclosure that Hamas has lost 550 Hamas fighters.

More about this see-saw development in DEBKAfile’s Exclusive Analysis below.

Meshaal Intervenes to Stop Hamas-Gaza from Succumbing to a Ceasefire


Saturday, Jan. 10, Day 15 of Israel’s Gaza Strip offensive against Hamas, top Palestinian leaders gathered in Cairo for ceasefire talks with Egyptian officials.

DEBKAfile’s military sources report that Jemal Abu Hashem, who rarely appears on public, Salah Bardaweel, leader of Hamas parliament faction, and Heiman Ta’a, member of the military wing’s command, were allowed to exit Gaza Friday after signaling their willingness for the first time to discuss an unconditional ceasefire.

After traveling to El Arish in northern Sinai Friday, they were flown to Cairo by an Egyptian military plane.

Saturday, they were joined by two colleagues from Damascus, Hamas’ senior operations chief Imad al Alami and politburo member Muhammad Nasser. Separately Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian Authority chairman and head of the rival Fatah also arrived in Cairo.

The Hamas delegates were preparing for their talks on Egypt’s ceasefire proposals to begin Sunday with intelligence minister Gen. Omar Suleiman, when their Damascus leader, Khaled Meshaal, dropped his bombshell.

Speaking over Damascus TV, he declared Hamas must fight on until Israel ends its military offensive, withdraws from the Gaza Strip and opens the enclave’s crossings. Egypt too must open the Rafah gate. Hamas would never accept any restrictions on its armament – a hint at Israel-Egyptian plans to block the Philadelphi route – and would treat international monitors as an “occupation” force.

Meshaal demanded an immediate Arab summmit which Egypt and Saudi Arabia have firmly refused. Israeli losses were much higher than admitted, he said, adding that Saturday, Hamas rockets had hit Israel’s Palmachim missile and satellite base more than 50 miles away.

DEBKAfile’s sources report that the Hamas leader’s emotional tirade raised suspicions in Jerusalem that he may have obtained pledges from Tehran and Hizballah for a last-ditch operation to save Hamas from collapse. They also noted the widening rift between Hamas-Damascus and Hamas-Gaza, which is paying dearly for Palestinian “resistance.”

The Hamas leaders’ resort to Egypt’s good offices three days after rejecting its proposals came after the failure of the UN Security Council resolution of Friday night, which stressed the urgency of a ceasefire and called on member-states to help “prevent illicit trafficking in arms and ammunition and to ensure the sustained reopening of the crossing pointsŠ”

Hamas also turned down the UN motion, while Israel said it was “unworkable” as long the rockets kept coming.

Our military sources report that Hamas was preparing to haggle over ceasefire terms, chiefly the opening of the crossing points, to save face, but had come closer than ever before to accepting a pause, any pause, without counter-demands – until Meshaal intervened.


Six developments brought Hamas near to breaking point, our military sources disclose:

1. Desertions are spreading among the 18,000 rank and file and police officers, who were left out in the open to shoot missiles and rockets and fight off Israeli attacks, while Hamas leaders and commanders stayed under cover in bunkers.

Seeing the fading resistance, Hamas’ Grad rocket specialist, Ami Mansi, emerged from hiding Saturday and took over a mortar position against Israel troops. Quickly identified, he was killed by an Israeli helicopter missile with two aides. That night, Al Qaeda’s Gaza commander, Ghassen Maqdad, was killed in Khan Younes in the south.

2. The Hamas hard core of fighters, estimated at 3,500 before the war, has suffered painful losses – at least 550 men, including high profile operatives. Israeli forces continued to press forward Saturday, disabling Hamas’ bunker hideouts, booby-trapped tunnels and buried passages designed to serve as escape hatches and the abduction of Israeli soldiers. Their missile production workshops have been destroyed but Hamas is not finished yet, say Israeli military sources.

Saturday, 12 Israeli soldiers suffered minor injuries.

3. Signaling an intense push ahead, Israeli aircraft dropped leaflets over the Gaza Strip Saturday with this warning: “The IDF will soon raise the level of attacks on tunnels, weapons caches and terrorists. For your own safety and that of your families, keep your distance from places where terrorists are hiding, active and store weapons.”

4. The commander of Hamas’ military wing, Muhammad Jabry, has lost his credibility after failing to follow through on his vow that Israeli troops would never set foot in Gaza City. Our military sources disclose that as of Saturday, the Gazan capital is virtually defenseless after desertions left Hamas bunkers, defensive tunnels and anti-tank positions unmanned.

Hamas tacticians have decided to deploy their dwindling manpower to maintain the missile and rocket-fire, which began dipping from 40 Thursday, to 30 Friday and 20 Saturday.

5. The southern town of Rafah is in the same dire straits as Gaza City.

6. Gaza’s population is increasingly estranged from its invisible Hamas rulers, accusing them of fighting their battles to the last civilian. Hamas has planted booby-traps, weapons caches and firing positions in private homes, so that civilians take the brunt of explosions and counter-attacks.

DEBKAfile’s military sources report senior IDF commanders are anxious to build on Hamas’ weakness at this moment to step up the tempo of their offensive and finally push Hamas to the wall. Israel will then be placed in position for attaining its targets – an end to Hamas’ eight-year missile assault on the South and its ability to rearm as well as the release of the captive Israeli soldier Gilead Shalit.

But Meshaal’s intervention may have put paid to a promising diplomatic initiative in Cairo.

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