‘Israel halted Gaza invasion to give talks more time’

Originally published in Jerusalem Post

Hamas leader, Khaled Mashaal.

Israel agreed to briefly hold off on sending ground forces into Gaza to allow time for cease-fire efforts to continue, an Israeli official told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.

Speaking at a press conference in Cairo Monday, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal said although Hamas is aware that Israel is “capable” of an invasion, it would not “be a picnic, but a political disaster” for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

Mashaal stated that if Israel wants a truce, it must initiate the cease-fire as they started the war, adding that Hamas caught Israel “off-guard” with their weapons.

However, officials in the prime minister’s office denied Mashaal’s statement that Netanyahu had asked for a cease fire.

“We have been hitting Hamas very hard,” the official said.

He explained that Israel had from the air attacked its weapons arsenal, its leadership, its buildings and communication apparatus.

“Hamas is under a lot of pressure and as a result they are saying many things, that are in no way connected to reality,” he said.

Israel had agreed to briefly hold off on sending ground forces into Gaza, to allow time for cease-fire efforts to continue, an Israeli official told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.

“Israel prefers a diplomatic solution,” the official said.

But he added that any agreement must provide a real solution that would erase the threat of rocket attacks against Israel’s southern residents.

If such a diplomatic solution is not found, then Israel is preparing its ground forces to enter Gaza, the official said.

He spoke as negotiations for a cease-fire continued in Cairo, where UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon is expected to arrive later today.

Quartet Special Envoy Tony Blair told President Shimon Peres that Egypt, Qatar, America and the UN were working to put in place a ceasefire.

Peres said that he appreciated efforts by Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi to end the hostilities.

“Egypt is a significant player in the Middle East. Strangely, it is Hamas that doesn’t listen to the Egyptian President,” he said.

Peres accused Iran of pressuring Hamas to continue the hostilities.

Iran is supplying Hamas “with arms, training them and sending them money,” Peres said.

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