Israelis Hustle to Leave Gaza in Time for Obama

The cease-fire has been holding, but Hamas warns it could fall apart next week.

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By Larry Derfner, Mideast Watch

In the wake of a cease-fire in the war in Gaza, Israel has been hustling to withdraw its troops from the territory with the aim that all will be gone in time for the presidential inauguration of Barack Obama. Israeli officials say that if Hamas and other Gazan militants continue to hold their fire, the goal will be achieved, reports the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

However, even if Israel gets completely out of Gaza by the time Obama moves into the White House, the cease-fire is in danger of falling apart by the beginning of next week. By that time, Hamas says it will abandon its unilateral cease-fire unless Israel lifts its land, sea, and air closure of Gaza, which Israel adamantly refuses to do.

Hamas vows to rearm
The goal of U.S. and international peace efforts—to disarm Hamas by stopping its arms smuggling—is crashing against the rocks of Gaza's reality. Although the United States pledged to Israel that it would work to stop such smuggling and European leaders repeated that pledge yesterday in Jerusalem, Hamas officials in Gaza had other ideas, as Israel's largest daily, Ynetnews , reports:

"Do whatever you want. Manufacturing the holy weapons is our mission and we know how to acquire weapons," Abu Ubaida, a spokesman for Hamas' armed wing, told a news conference [in Gaza].

According to Yuval Diskin, chief of Shin Bet, the Israeli internal security service, this is no idle boast, reports Haaretz :

Diskin on Sunday told the cabinet that Hamas would resume smuggling arms into Gaza within a few months, despite Israel's recent destruction of many tunnels used for this purpose.

The shutting down of Hamas's arms smuggling is key to Israel's goal of bringing long-term peace and quiet to its southern cities. The fear is that if Hamas can replenish its arms, sooner or later it will fire heavier, longer-range rockets, and Israel's military gains in "Operation Cast Lead" will vanish.

Hamas declares victory
Despite being hopelessly outmatched militarily and helpless to stop Israeli firepower from devastating Gaza, Hamas, as guerrilla armies are wont to do as long as they are still standing, declared victory, reports the Hamas-controlled Palestine Information Center. Haaretz adds this report:

"The enemy has failed to achieve its goals," Ismail Haniyeh, the top Hamas leader in the territory, said in a speech broadcast on Hamas television. Though he called the war, in which more than 1,300 Gazans and 13 Israelis died, a "popular victory" for Palestinians, Haniyeh said Hamas's decision to declare a truce on Sunday was "wise and responsible".

Hamas's unilateral, conditional truce allows it to demonstrate its willingness to stop fighting, while leaving it to Obama to force Israel to end its 2½-year blockade of Gaza—or risk having the war resume on his watch.

Cease-fire reveals scope of Gazan devastation
Al Jazeera, whose TV coverage of the war dominated world screens because Israel barred journalists from entering Gaza (a ban now partially lifted), reports on the vast devastation, where dazed, homeless Gazans are struggling to pull weeks-old corpses from the rubble.