Gaza truce expected to hold until after elections
Defense officials say Hamas interested in extending ceasefire, due to expire in December, at least until spring. However Deputy Defense Minister Vilnai warns a major terror attack carried out by any armed group would force Israel to respond with heavy hand
The ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip is expected to last until after the upcoming Knesset elections, the date for which has been tentatively set for mid-February.
Discussions held in recent days amongst defense officials have concluded that Hamas is keen on seeing the truce continue into spring. Representatives from both the IDF and the Shin Bet took part in the talks.
Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai warns, however, that Israel must also prepare for an altogether different scenario.
"The big fear is a major terror attack as a result of Hamas turning a blind eye (towards other armed groups in Gaza), and we would be forced to retaliate," Vilnai told Ynet.
The two crucial dates as far as Vilnai is concerned are December 18, when the ceasefire officially expires, and January 9, when the Palestinian Authority holds elections to replace President Mahmoud Abbas.
Hamas is expected to accept Egypt's proposal to extend the ceasefire beyond the initial six-month timeframe, which expires in December. Israel has already agreed in principle to the Egyptian plan. The 'green light' was given by Amos Gilad, head of the Defense Ministry's Security-Diplomatic Bureau, during a recent trip to Cairo.
Hamas says that while the truce is in the Palestinians' interests, they "have no intentions of giving Israel an eternal ceasefire free of charge unless the siege is lifted from Gaza."
'IDF is prepared for all scenarios'
Defense Minister Ehud Barak has made clear in internal discussions that a renewed wave of terror from Gaza, particularly rocket attacks, would require a serious response from Israel.
The military has been ordered to prepare for a range of possible reactions, including a full-out operation in the Strip.
Defense officials stressed that Israel has no intention to triggering an escalation in the region. "The defense minister is seeking to keep with the ceasefire, that is an undisputed Israeli interest," they said.
"This is a point we've made sure got across – transit government or not, the IDF is ready," said Vilnai. The
deputy minister added that Israel is taking advantage of the calm on its borders for fortification, and criticized the government for failing to transfer an additional NIS 500 million ($133 million) to that end. But with the upcoming elections and the expected failure to pass the 2009 budget, the money may be delayed by months.
Meanwhile Hamas has launched negotiations with the various armed groups in Gaza to discuss the ceasefire. Officially, Hamas is insisting that any extension would have to entail the opening of all the border crossings and an alleviation of the blockade imposed on the Strip. The above terms were not made part of the current agreement.
Ali Waked contributed to this report