We can talk, but we're far from beaten: Gaza militants

Gaza City: Gaza's smaller militant groups say they are ready to back a Hamas- and Islamic Jihad-endorsed truce with Israel, at the same time warning that six days of shelling and air strikes had barely made a dent in their weapons stockpile.

One of the commanders from the Al-Nasser Salah al-Dine Brigades, Abu Mahmoud, emerged from hiding to speak to Fairfax Media about what it would take to stop the firing of rockets into southern Israel and in turn end Israel's six-day long bombardment of the tiny coastal strip.

Israel has long criticised Hamas for losing control of the smaller militant groups operating on the strip, who have stepped up their rocket attacks against southern communities despite the informal truce agreement between Israel and Hamas reached in 2009.

“Now there is war, now it is different, now there is blood on the street,” Abu Mahmoud said.

There are daily meetings and co-ordination between all the groups, he said, emphasising: “Hamas speaks for all Palestinian parties.”

It is clear the deaths of three generations of the al-Dallu family in an Israeli rocket strike on Sunday has hardened the resolve of the militant groups.

“Israel says they have attacked the resistance, that they have taught us very hard lessons, but the family killed yesterday – the al-Dallu family – were they fighters? We have more than 100 martyrs, 20 of them children – why doesn't Israel attack us instead?”

The Brigades claimed responsibility for the mortar attack on an Israeli army convoy on November 10, which, with the death three days earlier of a 13-year-old boy shot by Israeli soldiers in Gaza, was seen as one of the key incidents that sparked the latest round of hostilities.

The militant group was also responsible for taking hostage the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was held for five years before his release in October last year. It is the military wing of the Popular Resistance Committees and is regarded as a terrorist group by Israel and the US.

Abu Mahmoud would not agree to be photographed or identified, such is the concern from militant groups about Israel's program of targeted assassinations - particularly after it killed the Hamas military commander Ahmed al-Jabari and his deputy in a surgical strike that began "Operation Pillar of Defence" last week.
Before he would agree to the interview, we had to hand over our mobile phones and meet in a discreet location, while Israel's drones buzzed overhead.

The Al-Nasser Salah al-Dine Brigades, like Hamas and Islamic Jihad, are pushing for more than just an end to the Israel's campaign of aerial bombing and shelling from naval ships stationed off Gaza's coast that has killed 105 Palestinians, including at least 58 civilians and injured at least 700, including more than 200 children.

Three Israelis have also been killed in the conflict, and at least 20 injured, as militants from Gaza launched more than 800 rockets into towns and cities in southern Israel, including several long-range missiles that were intercepted before they hit Tel Aviv and its suburbs.

They also want an end to Israel's air, sea and land blockade of Gaza, attacks on Palestinian fisherman, the campaign of targeted assassinations against militant leaders and incursions across Gaza's border.

Abu Mahmoud was dismissive of Israel's claims that it had destroyed much of Gaza's terrorist infrastructure, including many of the militant's weapons stores, over the past six days, saying the Brigades still had 99 per cent of their rockets intact.

He rejected accusations that militant groups such as his were responsible for drawing Israeli fire towards Palestinian civilians by firing rockets from residential areas, although residents regularly report seeing missiles launched from their Gaza neighbourhoods.

Meanwhile, Israel's deputy prime minister, Moshe Yaalon, laid out Israel's terms on Twitter: "If there is quiet in the south and no rockets and missiles are fired at Israel's citizens, nor terrorist attacks engineered from the Gaza Strip, we will not attack."

Mr Yaalon said Israel wanted an end to Gaza militant activity in the neighbouring Egyptian Sinai peninsula.

As both sides laid out their demands to their respective constituents, Israeli and Egyptian representatives meeting in Cairo discussed the details of a possible a ceasefire with Hamas and the Palestinian factions.

The Egyptian President, Mohamed Mursi, met the leader of Islamic Jihad, Ramadan Shalah, and the Hamas leader, Khaled Mashal. The Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, also met Mr Mashal

“Both sides are engaging in a brinkmanship, they are pushing each other to the edge,” warned a political analyst from Gaza's Al-Azhar University, Mkhaimar Abusada.

“They are both asking for a very high political price from each other and I do not know if either side will be able to accept it.”

The secretary general of the Arab League, Nabil el-Araby, along with a number of foreign ministers from member states were due to arrive in Gaza on Tuesday for further talks, a spokesman said, and the Turkish Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, is expected to join the delegation.

The story We can talk, but we're far from beaten: Gaza militants first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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