Hamas Said to Agree to Accord on Israel
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
And I'm Alex Chadwick.
Coming up: in Iraq, an important breakthrough - Sunni Arab groups endorse a national plan for reconciliation.
BRAND: But first, Israeli troops and tanks are poised on the border with the Gaza Strip. They're ready to launch a major offensive against Palestinian militants holding a captured Israeli soldier. Palestinian Leader Mahmoud Abbas is in Gaza. He is leading negotiations to get the release of the soldier. He was seized during a guerilla raid into southern Israel on Sunday. NPR's Linda Gradstein joins us from Israel. And, Linda, what's the latest on Abbas' efforts to get the release of the soldier?
LINDA GRADSTEIN reporting:
Well, he has had a meeting with the Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniya, and he was reportedly very angry and he said that this capture of the Israel soldier could lead to a disaster to an Israeli ground incursion, a large scale incursion into Gaza. And he has asked Hamas and other militants to free the soldier. He also says that he has his security forces on the ground looking for this soldier, especially in southern Gaza where he is believed to being held. But Israel says that the Palestinian Security Forces are not doing enough to try to get the soldier's release.
BRAND: And so they are poised to attack?
GRADSTEIN: An Israeli official told me that it's quote, “a matter of hours.” The sense was that they were going to give it sort of one last chance for the release of the soldier, but that if the negotiations did not lead to his freedom sometime in the next 24 hours, that the invasion would begin. Usually these things happen at night, either at night or in the predawn hours. So it's possible that it could happen sometime in the next 12, 15 hours, something like that.
BRAND: And are there preparations on the Palestinian side, military preparations?
GRADSTEIN: Yes. Palestinian gunmen have been seen on the streets of Gaza with anti-tank rockets, putting up barbed wire, burying explosive devices to try to stop the Israeli soldiers, making dirt barriers. The Egyptians are also preparing. They've deployed more than 1,000 riot police on Gaza's border with Egypt, afraid that if there is fighting, it could spill over to the Gaza border with Egypt as well. And military sources have said that the invasion is likely to be in the area of southern Gaza, perhaps around the town of Khan Yunis, which is where Israel believes the soldier is being held. They're also concerned that the Palestinian groups holding him are going to try to smuggle him across the Gaza-Egypt border into the Sinai, where it would be harder for Israel to rescue him.
BRAND: Well, meanwhile, there was an interesting political development today. It appears that Hamas may be on the verge of recognizing Israel. What can you tell us about that?
GRADSTEIN: Hamas and its rival Fatah Movement agreed on a plan that implicitly recognizes Israel, a plan that was drafted originally by Palestinian prisoners and calls for a Palestinian State within the 1967 borders. Now, soon after the draft was signed, senior Hamas officials said no, it has nothing to do with recognizing Israel. And the fact that we agreed to a Palestinian State in the West Bank in Gaza doesn't say anything about Israel on the other side of those borders. So it's really not clear whether this is a recognition of Israel. However, Fatah and Hamas have been bitterly fighting over this document over the past few weeks. And Abbas had called a referendum on it. And the signing is likely to mean that that referendum, which is scheduled for next month, will be cancelled.
BRAND: NPR's Linda Gradstein in Israel. Thank you.
GRADSTEIN: Thank you.