GAZA, (Reuters) – A proposal by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to expand a shaky ceasefire with Israel ran into opposition on Friday from Hamas militants who said the Jewish state must meet their demands first.
Senior Hamas lawmaker Mushir al-Masri said Hamas and other militant groups would not go along with Gaza’s truce being extended to the occupied West Bank unless Israel first halted all military operations and stopped excavations near Islam’s holiest site in Jerusalem.
Abbas intended to raise the idea of expanding Gaza’s truce during talks on Sunday with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Palestinians regarded the proposal as a way to soften Israeli opposition to a unity government deal between Abbas’s Fatah faction and Hamas Islamists.
Israeli officials said earlier this week the Jewish state would consider an expanded ceasefire only once Palestinians stopped violating the existing truce in Gaza.
Some militant groups have continued to fire rockets into Israel despite that truce, agreed in November. “There can be no talk about calm as long as the digging and harm to al-Aqsa continued and as long as the Zionist aggression continued,” Masri said, referring to the Israeli archaeological excavations near the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa mosques in Jerusalem’s Old City.
Israel says the dig, 50 metres (165 feet) from a religious compound known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif and to Jews as Temple Mount, will do no harm to the holy sites on the plaza, which overlooks Judaism’s Western Wall.
Masri made the comments after Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas and Abbas aide Saeb Erekat met with militants from Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other factions to try to reach agreement on a wider ceasefire.
Abbas wants to widen the ceasefire to include a cessation of Israel’s West Bank raids and Palestinian attacks from the territory as part of a deal to free a captive Israeli soldier and Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, officials said.