ISRAEL RESPONSIBLE FOR ANY RETREAT FROM TRUCE DEAL – says Hamas

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Osama Hamdan, the Hamas Movement’s representative in Lebanon, on Saturday condemned Israel as being fully responsible for any retreat from truce understandings.

He also said that the Egyptian mediator at the truce talks should take a stand towards Israel’s procrastination.

Hamdan told the Al-Jazeera TV channel that there was full agreement between Hamas and the Egyptian mediator about the understandings of the truce, but during the search for a final formula for the agreement, there was an Israeli retreat aimed at achieving gains at the last moment.

As for the statements made by Israeli premier Ehud Olmert that the captured Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, should be released in order for the truce to take effect, the Hamas representative stressed that the Cairo talks were only about the truce, the siege lifting and the timeframe for the calm, and it was agreed that the two files – the Shalit issue and the truce negotiations – should be separate.

The Hamas leader noted that there were no ambiguities or implications during the talks, the understandings were clear, but now there is an attempt to tamper with the details of these understandings.

Hamdan said that Israel’s raising of the Shalit issue was ‘a programmed operation to make the deal fail’.

He added: ‘we consider that this kind of Israeli procrastination is aimed at achieving more objectives and wasting more time and effort.

‘But our position is still as it was, and what was agreed has to be implemented fully. Otherwise Israel will bear the consequences of any failure.’

With regard to the guarantee for the Israeli implementation of the truce agreement, Hamdan stated that Egypt is the guarantor, adding the Egyptian mediator kept repeating and talking clearly about guarantees for over a month.

He expressed shock and dismay at the statements of the Egyptian foreign ministry in which it denied that Egypt pledged to guarantee the agreement, warning that such statements could have negative impacts on the efforts to reach a truce agreement.

Meanwhile, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said that there was separation between the truce issue and the file of the Israeli captive soldier during the Cairo talks, adding that Israel is still persistent in placing obstacles in the face of reaching a ceasefire agreement.

Barhoum also charged that Olmert, through his statements, is trying to score points in the interest of his own party which will be involved in the formation of the new Israeli government.

For his part, Taher Al-Nunu, the spokesman for the Palestinian government, stated that there is no relationship between the truce issue and the prisoner swap deal because every file has its own requirements, noting that the discussions in Cairo did not link between these two files.

Nunu also said that the discussions with the Egyptians are ongoing, ruling out the possibility of declaring a truce at the present time unless all outstanding issues are resolved.

On Saturday however, the Israeli government retreated from its agreement on the truce in return for opening the crossings and returned to its previous demand for the release of Shalit.

Olmert’s office said in a statement that the premier’s position is that Israel will not reach a compromise on the calm issue before the release of Shalit.

Meanwhile, a prominent commander in the Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, has said that they were not surprised by the Israeli Occupation Forces’ (IOF) large-scale onslaught on Gaza but were surprised at the unprecedented scale of IOF ‘criminality’.

In the three weeks of its brutal war on the Gaza Strip the IOF had killed 1,300 Palestinians and wounded more than 5,000 others mostly women and children.

Ahmed Al-Ghandur, the commander of the northern Gaza Strip district, said in a press statement on Sunday that the IOF suffered big losses but is refusing to admit it.

He added that his armed wing succeeded in directing the fight against the IOF invasion in a balanced and appropriate manner until the very last minute of the battle.

The Qassam Brigades’ fighters are capable of standing fast in the face of any IOF aggression despite their limited weaponry, Ghandur underlined.

In a separate development last Saturday afternoon, the armed wing of the Islamic Jihad Movement, the Quds Brigades, declared responsibility for blasting an IOF jeep in the central Gaza Strip.

It said in a communiqué that the explosive device directly hit the jeep, and added that the operation was in retaliation for the IOF massacres in the Gaza Strip and to affirm the Palestinian people’s right to resist occupation.

• About 300 Israeli settlers, escorted by IOF troops and border guards, invaded several areas in the Artas village, south of Bethlehem, last Friday and set up several tents on these areas which are threatened with annexation.

This Israeli escalation came after Israeli bulldozers established 800-metre road linking the area of Khalat Al-Nahl in the village with the Efrat settlement built on the territory of several villages in the area including Artas and Khadr.

Villagers from Artas said that the Israeli bulldozers are working in this area around the clock even at night in order to finish this settlement scheme quickly.

In another context, Arab Knesset member Ibrahim Sarsour condemned the blasphemous assault on the Bahar mosque in the Tabaria city at dawn Saturday, when satanic graffiti was sprayed on the mosque’s wall in addition to red and black colours.

In a statement, the Knesset member said that such malicious assaults on Islamic holy places had been committed by both the IOA and settlers for decades.

He asserted that the parties of the Arab united list and the Arab movement for change would not stay passive towards such acts, holding the Israeli police responsible for this serious violation.

This is not the first assault on this mosque, where Israeli settlers destroyed part of its roof in 2000 and the IOA allowed an extremist settler to live inside the mosque in 1999, and later to set fire to it.