Israel has said it is willing, in principle, to ease Gaza border restrictions — but only with safeguards that prevent weapons or goods with possible military uses, such as cement for building tunnels and bunkers, from reaching Hamas.
Hamas has said it will not surrender its weapons under any circumstances. It has signaled some flexibility in letting Abbas take a lead on Gaza reconstruction but has also said it wants to retain a say.
Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki said the Gaza war appears to have boosted Hamas' popularity, but that this might be short-lived if Hamas is seen as impeding reconstruction. If Abbas leads the process effectively, he will get a lot of credit, Shikaki said. "Obviously, if Abbas makes unreasonable demands, such as disarming Hamas, then the public will side with Hamas," he said.
Ahmed Yousef, a Gaza intellectual and former Hamas government official, said he believes the movement is eager to unload the burden of government after its financial difficulties of recent months. "I see Hamas going back to the street, working with people," he said, suggesting the group might run for parliament in the future, but not try to return to government.
"Hamas has restored its popularity and will build on that," he said.
Any attempt by Hamas to rebuild its military capacity is being disrupted by the Egyptian tunnel closures. In the past, the tunnels funneled not just consumer goods, but also weapons from Iran and Syria and raw materials for a local arms industry.
Lerner, the Israeli military spokesman, said the Hamas rocket arsenal, estimated at 10,000, has been reduced by two-thirds. Hamas fired more than 3,300 rockets at Israel since July 8 and another 3,000 rockets were destroyed on the ground in Gaza by Israeli strikes, along with more than 1,000 launchers, he said.
Israel has also destroyed 32 tunnels under the Gaza-Israel border intended for staging attacks. Of those, 14 had already reached Israel, he said. With each concrete-lined tunnel costing about $3 million to dig, Hamas lost a strategic investment of about $100 million, he said. The tunnels were on average 2.5 to 3 kilometers (1.5 to 1.8 miles) long and took two to three years to build.
Lerner said Hamas' ability to manufacture rockets locally has also been hurt, with airstrikes destroying 191 sites linked to manufacturing.
However, the military option remains open if Hamas feels cornered.
The spokesman of the Hamas military wing, who goes by the nom de guerre Abu Obeida, said Wednesday the group still has plenty of reserves. "What we have shown in the war (in terms of weapons) is very little, and we will have a lot in our inventory," he said in a text message in response to a question also sent by text.
Daraghmeh reported from Ramallah, West Bank. Associated Press writer Ibrahim Barzak in Gaza City contributed to this report. Laub leads coverage of the Palestinian territories and has reported on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since 1987. Daraghmeh, based in the West Bank, has covered Palestinian affairs since 1996.
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