THE LEVANT – Thousands of militants paraded in the besieged Gaza Strip Friday, defiantly saying they would rearm as the prospects of a final deal on a long-term Israel-Hamas truce looked shaky.
Calm returned to the coastal enclave in a Tuesday ceasefire, and Gazans were gradually starting to rebuild their lives after a bloody and destructive 50-day war, the deadliest for years.
However, the chances of long-term peace hung in the balance after Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal ruled out Israeli demands to disarm, and as Israel said it would not budge on key Hamas demands.
Thousands of Islamic Jihad fighters paraded through Gaza City in a show of force, marching with light weapons and holding aloft rockets similar to those fired at Israel during the conflict.
The spokesman for Al-Quds Brigades, the group’s armed wing, delivered a speech praising backers Iran and allies Hezbollah and declaring the militants would “redouble efforts” to rearm.
“We have not stopped making weapons, even during the battle, and we will redouble our efforts… to prepare for the next stage, which we hope will be the battle for freedom,” said the spokesman known as Abu Hamza.
His words echoed those of the exiled leader of Hamas, Gaza’s de facto ruler.
“The weapons of the resistance are sacred and we will not accept that they be on the agenda” of future talks with Israel, Meshaal said Thursday in Doha.
A top Iranian military official vowed to help Palestinian militants rearm.
“Be assured that the Iranian people and the Iran Revolutionary Guards Corps will help you more than in the past in all defense and social domains,” said commander General Mohammad Ali Jafari, in remarks posted on the Internet.
Israel has consistently linked the reconstruction of the Gaza enclave to its demilitarization.
“It has become abundantly clear that unless Hamas is disarmed and its tools of control removed, there can be no peace and security for either Israelis or Palestinians,” said Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
Both Israel and Hamas are claiming the truce as a victory.
“Hamas was hit very hard and there is here a military achievement of the highest order, as well as a diplomatic achievement because they dropped all of their demands,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a U.S. delegation.
“They got to this point the hard way. They kept testing us and every time we struck them but the last time, given this accumulation of blows, they were persuaded.”
Talks on crunch issues such as Hamas’s demands for a port and an airport and the release of prisoners, as well as Israeli calls for militant groups to be disarmed, have been put on hold until negotiators return to Cairo within a month.
Meshaal acknowledged that not all the Hamas conditions for a ceasefire were met but stressed that its arsenal “guarantees that our demands will not be overlooked.”
“Not all our demands have been satisfied… but an important part,” he said, referring to the easing of Israel’s blockade of the impoverished territory.
The seven-week conflict claimed the lives of 2,143 Palestinians, more than 70 percent of them civilians according to the United Nations, and 65 soldiers and six civilians on the Israeli side.
Islamic Jihad said Friday 121 of its fighters died.
Israel HaYom freesheet, seen as close to Netanyahu, said continued Egypt-mediated talks with Hamas would have to balance toughness with incentives.
“Hamas did not surrender,” it wrote. “To deny it any motivation to fire again… Israel should combine carrots and sticks.”
“It should be generous in opening the crossings and the passage for goods so that it will be clear to Hamas what it stands to lose, and it should be clear about the immediate meaning of the violation of the ceasefire — a return to warfare.”
Meanwhile the Jordanian parliament welcomed the “permanent” truce between Israel and Hamas, calling it a “new victory for the resistance”.
Its statement on Friday came as more than 10,000 people staged a rally organized by Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood in eastern Amman to celebrate “Gaza’s victory”.