'Hamas speaks for all' - militants back talks for truce
GAZA CITY: Gaza's smaller militant groups are ready to back a Hamas and Islamic Jihad-endorsed truce with Israel, but warn that six days of shelling and air strikes have barely made a dent in their weapons stockpile.
One of the commanders from the al-Nasser Salah al-Din Brigades, Abu Mahmoud, emerged from hiding to speak to Fairfax Media about what it would take to stop the firing of rockets into southern Israel and in turn end Israel's six-day long bombardment of the tiny coastal strip.
The brigades claimed responsibility for the mortar attack on an Israeli army convoy on November 10, which, with the death three days earlier of a 13-year-old boy shot by Israeli soldiers in Gaza, was seen as one of the incidents that sparked the latest round of hostilities.
Out of hiding … members of the al-Nasser Salah al-Din Brigades. Photo: AP
The group was also responsible for taking hostage the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was held for five years before his release in October last year, and is the military wing of the Popular Resistance Committees. The US and Israel regard it as a terrorist group.
Israel has long criticised Hamas for losing control of the smaller militant groups operating in the strip, who have stepped up their rocket attacks against southern Israeli communities despite the informal truce agreement between Israel and Hamas reached in 2009.
''Now there is war, now it is different, now there is blood on the street,'' Mr Mahmoud said. There are daily meetings and co-ordination between all the groups, he said, emphasising: ''Hamas speaks for all Palestinian parties.''
It is clear the deaths of three generations of the Dallu family in an Israeli rocket strike on Sunday has hardened the resolve of the militant groups.
''Israel says they have attacked the resistance, that they have taught us very hard lessons, but the family killed yesterday - the Dallu family - were they fighters? We have more than 100 martyrs, 20 of them children - why doesn't Israel attack us instead?''
The al-Nasser Salah al-Din Brigades, like Hamas and Islamic Jihad, are pushing for more than just an end to Israel's campaign of aerial bombing and shelling from ships off Gaza that has left 105 Palestinians dead, including at least 58 civilians, and injured at least 700, including more than 200 children.
They also want an end to the blockade of Gaza, attacks on Palestinian fishermen, the campaign of targeted assassinations against militant leaders and incursions across Gaza's border.
Three Israelis have also been killed in the conflict and at least 20 injured as militants from Gaza launched more than 800 rockets into towns and cities in southern Israel, including long-range missiles that were intercepted before they hit Tel Aviv.
Mr Mahmoud was dismissive of Israel's claims it had destroyed much of Gaza's terrorist infrastructure, including many of the militants' weapons over the past six days, saying the brigades still had 99 per cent of their rockets.
He rejected accusations militant groups were responsible for drawing Israeli fire towards Palestinian civilians by firing rockets from residential areas, although residents regularly report seeing missiles launched from their neighbourhoods.
The Israeli Vice-Prime Minister, Moshe Ya'alon, laid out Israel's terms on Twitter: ''If there is quiet in the south and no rockets and missiles are fired at Israel's citizens, nor terrorist attacks engineered from the Gaza Strip, we will not attack.''
He said Israel also wanted an end to Gaza militant activity on the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt.
As both sides laid out their demands, Israeli and Egyptian representatives in Cairo discussed the details of a possible ceasefire with Hamas and the Palestinian factions.
The Egyptian President, Mohammed Mursi, met the leader of Islamic Jihad, Ramadan Shallah and the Hamas leader Khaled Mashal. The Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, also met Mr Mashal.
''Both sides are engaging in a brinkmanship, they are pushing each other to the edge,'' warned Mkhaimar Abusada, a political analyst from Gaza's al-Azhar University. ''They are both asking for a very high political price from each other and I do not know if either side will be able to accept it.''