12/16/2008, 00.00
PALESTINE - ISRAEL
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Uncertainty over ceasefire between Hamas and Israel

by Joshua Lapide
The militant groups say it will end on December 19. But the majority of the people in Gaza are asking that it be continued.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) - Islamic Jihad is ready to reject a ceasefire with Israel beginning on December 19. A statement released today by the Palestinian militant group says that "the ceasefire with the enemy has not permitted us to reach our objectives [editor's note: meaning the end of the Israeli blockade on Gaza] and represents a threat for our people."

The rejection of Islamic Jihad follows a few days after statements by Khaled Meshaal, the head of Hamas in Syria, according to whom "the ceasefire was limited to December 19. Since the enemy is not respecting its commitments, and the siege [of Gaza] is still underway against our people, for Hamas . . . the ceasefire ends after December 19, and will not be renewed."

The ceasefire, reached six months ago with Egyptian mediation, does not have an official character, but brought with it a reduction in hostility between Israel and the Hamas militants in Gaza, accentuated by the rocket attacks against Israeli territory, and by the seizure of power in the Gaza Strip by Hamas in June of 2007.

In recent weeks, the ceasefire has been violated repeatedly. Militant groups, apparently escaping the control of Hamas, have launched rockets and mortar shells against Israel, and Israeli soldiers have made various incursions into Palestinian territory. According to independent sources, last week at least 22 rockets and 23 mortar rounds were launched from Gaza; Israeli soldiers carried out two armed incursions.

The majority of the Palestinian population in Gaza, suffocated by a strict embargo, are asking for the ceasefire to continue. According to a survey by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research, at least 74% of the inhabitants of Gaza are asking for a continuation of the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.

In Ramallah, Mahmoud Abbas, head of the Palestinian Authority, has asked for the ceasefire to be maintained. "Its violation," he said, "is in no one's interest . . . We are asking all parties to maintain it. Its end would aggravate the sufferings of our people."

The Israeli government, involved in an electoral campaign, does not seem unanimous on the extension of the ceasefire. Ehud Barak, the foreign minister, has said that "if the ceasefire holds, Israel will respect it. If it does not, then we will react with appropriate military means."

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