GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories — Hamas held “urgent” talks with militant groups on Wednesday to pass on a warning from Arab leaders about firing rockets at Israel, faction leaders told AFP.
The meeting at a Gaza City hotel came just days after Hamas said it would ensure militant factions obeyed a national consensus truce on rocket fire, following weeks of rising tensions along the border with Israel.
Among those invited were members of Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) and other groups.
“Hamas asked us to this meeting at the Al-Quds Hotel in Gaza; they said it was urgent,” one militant leader told AFP on condition of anonymity, saying the gathering had been called by Mahmud Zahar, Khalil al-Haya and Ayman Taha.
“Hamas received a message from Egypt and other parties, some of them Arab, telling them that the situation along the Gaza border is very dangerous, and that Israel might start another war if the firing of rockets continues, especially Grads,” he said, referring to a Soviet-designed rocket with a range of up to 40 kilometres (24 miles).
Faaleh Ziddan, a DFLP leader involved in the talks, told AFP he was also warned of the danger of a new war during a meeting on Tuesday with two aides to Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman.
“They told me they are very worried about the escalation in Gaza and that Israel might use the Palestinian rockets as a reason for a new war,” he said.
What was needed was a “national understanding” so as to not give Israel any reason to launch a war, he said.
“The situation is very dangerous now — there is no trust with Israel. This meeting will discuss how to deny Israel a reason to launch the war, and how to create calm in the field.”
After Wednesday’s meeting, a Hamas representative read a statement on behalf of all groups that attended, reaffirming “the right to resist the Israeli occupation, including by national consensus.”
This was a reference to maintaining the truce announced by Hamas in January 2009 after Israel’s “Operation Cast Lead” against Gaza. The truce has been largely respected by Hamas but not by other militant groups.
Khalil al-Haya, a Hamas political leader, spoke of “a period of calm,” and demanded that this also be observed by Israel.
The statement also expressed alarm at “plans by the Israeli occupation to carry out a huge massacre,” and called on “the international community and the Arab League to prevent this.”
Witnesses said later on Wednesday that Hamas forces had deployed east of Gaza City near the border with Israel.
Khaled al-Batsh, a leader of the radical Islamic Jihad group, said his organisation would “respect the national consensus considering greater Palestinian interests”, implying it would not initiate attacks on Israel.
But he also underlined “the right of self-defence against aggression.”
In recent weeks, Gaza militants have fired scores of rockets into the Jewish state, prompting a flurry of retaliatory air strikes and raising fears of another massive operation along the lines of the 2008-9 war.
The 22-day war, which ended in a ceasefire on January 18, 2009, killed 1,400 Palestinians, more than half of them civilians, and 13 Israelis, 10 of them soldiers.