The Islamist group Hamas has prepared for a protracted and exhausting war in the Gaza Strip and believes it can hold off Israel’s advance long enough to force its arch-enemy to agree to a ceasefire, two sources close to it told Reuters. to the leadership of the organization, BTA reports.
Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, has stockpiled weapons, rockets, food and medical supplies, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the complexity of the situation.
The group is confident that its thousands of fighters can survive for months in the city from tunnels dug deep under the Palestinian enclave and hamper Israeli forces with urban guerrilla tactics, the sources told Reuters.
Ultimately, Hamas believes that international pressure on Israel to end the war, whose civilian casualties are mounting, could lead to a ceasefire and a negotiated settlement that would see the Islamist group emerge with tangible concessions. such as freeing the thousands of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Israeli and foreign hostages, the sources said.
According to four Hamas members, the group made it clear to the US and Israel during indirect hostage talks brokered by Qatar that it wanted to force such a prisoner release in exchange for hostages.
In the longer term, Hamas has said it wants an end to Israel’s 17-year blockade of Gaza, as well as a halt to the expansion of Jewish settlements and what Palestinians see as a crackdown by Israeli security forces on relation to Al-Aqsa Mosque, the holiest Muslim temple.
On Thursday, UN experts called for a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza, saying Palestinians there were at “serious risk of genocide”.
Many experts speak of a deepening crisis with no clear way out for either warring party.
“The mission to destroy Hamas is not an easy task at all,” said Marwan al-Muasher, a former foreign minister and deputy prime minister of Jordan who now works for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.
“This conflict has no military solution. We are in dark times. This war will not be short,” he adds.
Israel has used massive aerial firepower since the October 7 attack, in which Hamas gunmen emerged from the Gaza Strip, killing 1,400 Israelis and taking 239 hostages.
The death toll in Gaza has topped 9,000, with each day of violence fueling protests around the world over the plight of more than 2 million Gazans trapped in the tiny enclave, many without water, food and electricity.
Last week, Israeli airstrikes hit a crowded refugee camp in Gaza, killing at least 50 Palestinians and a Hamas commander.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to destroy Hamas and rejected calls for a ceasefire. Israeli officials say they are under no illusions about what lies ahead and accuse Hamas militants of using civilians as human shields.
The country has prepared for a “protracted and exhausting war,” said Danny Danon, Israel’s former ambassador to the United Nations and a former member of the Knesset’s foreign affairs and defense committee.
“We know that in the end we will defeat and overcome Hamas,” he told Reuters, adding: “The question will be the price that will be paid for that, and we have to be very cautious and very careful and understand that it becomes word for a very difficult urban area for military operations”.
The US has said now is not the time for a blanket ceasefire, although it says pauses in hostilities are needed to deliver humanitarian aid.
Adib Ziadeh, a Palestinian international affairs expert at Qatar University who has studied Hamas, said the group must have had a longer-term plan to follow its attack on Israel.
“Those who carried out the October 7 attack so professionally and precisely must have prepared themselves for a prolonged battle.
It is not possible for Hamas to participate in such an attack without being fully prepared and mobilized for its consequences,” Ziadeh told Reuters.
The US expects Hamas to try to hamper Israeli forces with street fighting in Gaza and inflict heavy enough military casualties to weaken Israeli public support for a prolonged conflict, said a source familiar with White House policy who asked to remain anonymous.
However, Israeli officials have stressed to their American counterparts that they are prepared to counter Hamas’ guerrilla tactics and withstand international criticism of their offensive, the source said.
The question of whether the Jewish state is capable of eliminating Hamas or only weakening the group remains open, the source added.
According to Hamas sources, the group has about 40,000 fighters. They can move around the enclave using a vast network of fortified tunnels, hundreds of kilometers long and up to 80 meters deep, built over many years.
On Thursday, according to local residents and video footage, Hamas fighters in Gaza were seen emerging from tunnels and firing at Israeli tanks before disappearing back into the underground network of tunnels.
The Israeli army says soldiers from its Yahalom special engineering unit are working with other military units to detect and destroy tunnel mines in what an Israeli military spokesman called “sophisticated urban fighting” in Gaza.
Hamas has fought a number of wars with Israel in recent decades, and according to Ali Baraka, the Beirut-based head of Hamas’s foreign relations department, the group has gradually improved its military capabilities, particularly its missiles.
During the 2008 Gaza war, Hamas rockets had a maximum range of 40 km, but by the 2021 conflict, that had increased to 230 km, he added. “In every war we surprise the Israelis with something new,” Baraka told Reuters.
The drive to find a lasting solution to the conflict has taken on new importance for Washington in recent days as political support in the US for Israel’s war in Gaza has begun to wane, the Financial Times said.
On Thursday, Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Israel’s operation in Gaza is causing “an unacceptable level of civilian casualties and does not appear likely to achieve the goal of definitively eliminating the threat from Hamas.”
Other leading Democrats, including Sen. Dick Durbin, made similar criticisms, while Sen. Ben Cardin, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also raised the question of what comes after the conflict.
“We don’t know how long the operation will last, but there will come a time when we will withdraw (and) we have to find some solution,” Cardin said.
Like most of his predecessors, US President Joe Biden supported the idea of creating two separate states – one for Israel and one for the Palestinians – when he took office, but did not pay much attention to the issue.
Other international hot topics such as relations with China, the conflict in Afghanistan and Russia’s war in Ukraine were higher in his foreign policy.
With the Israeli offensive escalating, however, Biden and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken have begun to mention the two-state solution more often in their public statements, and US officials say the idea of using the crisis to give impetus to a new peace a process gaining popularity among representatives of the American government, notes the “Financial Times”.
Hamas, which is designated a terrorist organization by Israel, the US, the EU and other countries, calls for Israel’s destruction in its 1988 founding charter.
In a subsequent document known as the 2017 Charter, the group for the first time accepted the idea of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, including Palestinian lands that Israel occupied after the Six-Day War, although the group did not explicitly recognize Israel’s right to exist .
Beirut-based Hamas spokesman Osama Hamdan said the Oct. 7 attack and subsequent war in Gaza would put the issue of Palestinian statehood back on the table.
“This is an opportunity for us to tell them that we can make our destiny with our own hands. We can arrange the equation in the region in a way that serves our interests,” he told Reuters.
Hamas has expanded its influence since the Oslo peace accords negotiated between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) in 1993 to end the decade-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict failed. Netanyahu first won power in 1996.
Palestinians and American negotiators have said his governments’ refusal over the years to halt Jewish settlement building in the occupied West Bank undermines efforts to create a separate Palestinian state.
In the past, Israeli officials have denied the settlements are an obstacle to peace, and Netanyahu’s current far-right coalition has taken an even harder line against ceding the occupied lands.
An Arab peace initiative has been under discussion since 2002, enjoying broad international and unanimous Arab support. The plan offers Israel peace treaties with the restoration of diplomatic ties in exchange for a sovereign Palestinian state.
Instead, Netanyahu preferred to bet on the creation of a Sunni Arab alliance with Israel, made up of Egypt and Jordan – countries with which the Jewish state has had peace treaties since 1979 and 1994 – as well as the United Arab Emirates (UAE). , Bahrain and Morocco.
Prior to the October 7 Hamas attack, the Israeli prime minister was in US-brokered talks with Saudi Arabia on a historic diplomatic agreement to form a united front against Iran, but that process has since been halted.
Marwan al-Muasher said the Hamas attack had ended any possibility of achieving stability in the Middle East without the participation of the Palestinians. “Today it is clear that without peace with the Palestinians there will be no peace in the region,” the analyst summed up.
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