17 Nov 2012

Israeli assassins ‘thwarted hopes of peace deal’

An Israeli peace activist claims the assassination of Hamas’s military leader took place as the Islamist group was considering a wider ceasefire.

Gershon Baskin, founder of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, told Channel 4 News that negotiations were in progress and Ahmed al-Jaabari might have been persuaded to suspend rocket attacks on the Jewish state had he not been targeted for assassination.

Last year Mr Baskin helped to arrange the exchange of Israeli prisoner Gilad Shalit after he was kidnapped by Hamas in a raid widely thought to have been planned by Jaabari.

Mr Baskin said he was attempting to broker a three to six-month ceasefire between Hamas and Israel at the time of Jaabari’s death and had put the deal to Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak months before the Islamist’s death.

He told Channel 4 News: “I know that Jaabari was interested in a ceasefire. He has enforced ceasefires in the past months and he was prepared, we hoped, to engage in activities that would prevent attacks against Israel, thereby preventing a pre-emptive Israeli strike that kills people and causes people on the Gaza side of the border to throw rockets at Israel.

“Every time there was a round of rocket fire I would get phone calls from Hamas: ‘Please tell the Israelis we don’t want to escalate. We want a ceasefire.’ As it would escalate, I would get more and more phone calls with greater intensity.”

I don’t know if he was going to agree to it. I know that he wanted a ceasefire. Gershon Baskin

Asked if Jaabari was on the point of signing a long-term ceasefire at the time of his death, Mr Baskin said: “I don’t know if he was going to agree to it. I know that he wanted a ceasefire. The indications were that there were enough people of pragmatism within the Hamas leadership who were willing to take a chance and go down this road.”

He said his plans for a truce were circulated among senior figures in Israel’s government, military and security services, to no avail.

“In the end the prevailing voice within the security establishment in Israel is that we don’t need agreement with Hamas, we need to create a deterrent, which is what we are doing now.

“Jaabari was selected as a target, if you ask me, not because of this potential agreement but because this was the kind of deterrent that Israel wanted.

“If Israel could kill Jaabari, the head of the military forces of Hamas, then every Hamas leader has to know that they could get every single one of them.”