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Analysis: Hamas plays dangerous poker game in Cairo
Published Saturday 09/08/2014 01:40
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JERUSALEM (AFP) -- Limited skirmishes or a new round of killing? Friday's resumption of hostilities may see Hamas overplay its hand in a dangerous poker game that could plunge Gaza back into chaos, analysts said.

Palestinian militants fired two rockets at Israel in the final hours of a 72-hour truce and followed it up with dozens more as Israel hit back with unrelenting airstrikes.

At least 1,898 Palestinians have been now killed, including around 450 children, thousands of homes have been reduced to rubble and around a quarter of the 1.8 million people in Gaza displaced.

Israel endured its worst military losses -- 64 soldiers -- since its 2006 war against Hezbollah in Lebanon -- and three civilians -- one of them a Thai agricultural worker -- were killed on the home front.

Indirect talks between the Israelis and Palestinians, whose delegation includes Hamas, have stretched for days in Cairo but Egyptian mediators have struggled to reconcile conflicting demands.

Hamas wants Israel to lift the blockade it imposed on Gaza in 2006 before it will stop rocket attacks. Israel has conditioned reconstruction on the demilitarisation of Gaza.

Easing the blockade

Hamas sees lifting the blockade, which Egypt has also partially imposed with the closure of the Rafah border crossing, as the minimum it can take home to a war-battered Gaza Strip.

"Clearly they are not going to get it. Question is how much easing will they get?" says Nathan Thrall, from the International Crisis Group.

The armed wing of Hamas, the al-Qassam Brigades, has insisted on a sea port and the building of an international airport in Gaza.

Israel will not countenance it.

"Any boat would be able to enter without being checked and Israel will never accept that," warned Thrall, pointing out that a port would simply give Hamas a new means to smuggle in rockets.

Naji Charab, a political affairs expert at Al-Azhar University in Gaza, says Hamas is looking for some kind of compromise that would give it "an honorable exit."

The Islamist movement may have inflicted greater losses on Israel in the battlefield than it expected to, but it has been forced into a corner and lost an ally in Egypt.

The overthrow of president Mohamed Morsi, whose Muslim Brotherhood movement is close to Hamas, has seen Cairo lash out hard against Hamas, destroying its tunnels on the Egyptian side of the border and freezing out the movement.

Kobi Michael, a political scientist at Ariel University in the occupied West Bank, said Israel's most important alliance in the Middle East had become Cairo.

"Egypt has no problem seeing Gazans buckle under the burden," he told AFP.

"In that aspect, Israel might have even disappointed Egypt a bit for not doing to Hamas what Egypt would have done to them if it were up to them," he added.

Ground offensive?

Its battlefield achievements have given Hamas at least a temporary boost in popularity in Gaza, but it is under huge pressure to prove to people at home that the massive Palestinian losses were worth something.

Former Israeli government spokeswoman Miri Eisin said that Hamas wanted to see how Israel will respond.

For the moment Israel has hit back only with airstrikes. It recalled all ground troops from Gaza earlier this week and there is no imminent sign of tanks rolling back across the border.

"If they want to stop the rocket fire you have to go with ground forces, you have to occupy the Gaza Strip. But nobody has said that," she said.

"Israel did not want to go in, to conquer Gaza, to progress too deep," said Yoram Schweitzer, a former counter-terrorism chief in the Israeli military.

But if the conflict gets bogged down and the sides can't reach an acceptable agreement, "Israel would have to decide if it changes its policy and enters Gaza for a wider operation," he said.
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1 ) Ben Amin Patton / Chile
09/08/2014 02:46
Dear Sir: Hamas is finished, the only alternatives that remain is that Iran is directly involved with Hezbollah. But the Iranians are tremendous cowards. Khamenei fears that Israel destroy Iran and nuclear locations. Egypt knows this is the best opportunity to destroy Islam Politician and cut the chain linking Persia and Turkey and Qatar with Hamas. In this he is assisted by SA, UAE, Kuwuait, Jordan and USA. For his honor, please publish this comment. Thank you.

2 ) Tristian Aleron / Scotland
09/08/2014 09:28
Sorry, "plunge Gaza back into chaos", how much worse can the lives of the people of Gaza get? Eight years under siege, Israel thwarting every attempt at normality, even trying to destroy their unity government. Now, targeting anything that stands, moves or is present in Gaza. Whatever hand Hamas is playing, the vast majority of people in Gaza support it, because they have had enough. In the end it will be Israel that over plays its hand & bears the brunt of the recriminations. Step back, think.

3 ) JoeFattal / USA
09/08/2014 16:48
@1) Ben Amin Patton / chile A pro-Israel professor said earlier that after this war Netanyahu came out strong and Abbas weak. It is the right time for Netanyahu and Abbas to sit together and make peace. But than he continue and said that Hamas is the problem. So when you said that Hamas is finished, you are wrong. For Israel Hamas is immortal. Even if Hamas is not around their name will come out from Israel at every attempt peace is in reach.

4 ) this is for truth / usa
09/08/2014 18:19
Muslims dont gamble, they strive to achieve.

5 ) Ben Amin Patton / Chile
09/08/2014 23:52
Dear Fattal, the bottom line is what lies behind Hamas. Hamas is controllable and destructible at any time, the real danger is representing Turkey, Qatar and Iran. Moderate Muslims know they will soon have to face the Political Islam or face their own destruction. Hardly USA fight for them. The war funding already exists, just need to confirm as the statement is executed. Please publish this comment.

6 ) Outlier / USA
10/08/2014 01:22
Yup. Dangerous and stupid. Gazans deserve better.

7 ) Richard Lightbown / Europe
10/08/2014 12:02
Hardly a balanced cross section of analysts. Someone from the quisling Crisis Group. Another from the 'university' in the settlements, and a former Israeli government spokesperson. Yes there is a stalemate, but just remember that you can win at poker with a crap hand just by facing your opponent down. Palestinians may decide that now is the time to die on their feet rather than exist on their knees. People in Gaza do not have a lot to lose at the moment, other than their dignity.

8 ) Ben Amin Patton / Chile
10/08/2014 19:23
Outlier, Gazans are in agreement with Hamas. They were delighted that Israel was attacked. If Gazans not reject Hamas then they run the same fate. Yes, it was dangerous and it was stupid that they support Hamas.
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