Gaza Strife Raises Urgency of Israeli Calls for Talks with Hamas

| Mon Mar. 3, 2008 11:28 AM EST

After a weekend ground operation in Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip that left more than 100 people dead, many of them civilians, Israeli Defense Forces pulled out of Gaza Monday. The withdrawal could be a gesture to placate an important visitor: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is due to arrive in Israel Tuesday to try to advance stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, and all out-warfare going on in the background to her peace mission would no doubt be an embarrassment to Washington.

But as former Israeli intelligence chief Efraim Halevy told me in a recent interview, Israel and Rice are not talking to a key player: Hamas. Halevy advocates that Israel and Washington back indirect proximity talks between Israel and Hamas, conducted by a trusted third party. He is not alone. News media report that Egypt is trying to broker a cease fire agreement between Israel and Hamas, an arrangement publicly supported by Israeli Labor minister Ami Ayalon, among others. If a cease fire is not able to be achieved and Hamas' Qhassam and Grad rockets continue to hit the Israeli towns of Sderot and Ashkelon, Israeli officials are warning that last weekend's incursion will be dwarfed by a full scale ground invasion of Gaza in coming weeks. "It makes sense to approach a possible initial understanding including Hamas—but not exclusively Hamas—at a time when they are still asking for one," Halevy told me. "No side will gain from a flare up leading to Israel re-entering the Gaza strip in strength to undo the ill-fated unilateral disengagement of 2005."

Here is the interview with Halevy.

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