According to reports in the Israeli media, Hamas is close to agreeing to a cease fire that might meet some of Israel's conditions. A statement from the organization is expected at 7:30 pm local time tonight (1:30 pm EST). Meanwhile, Israeli operations appear to be continuing along the lines of the past two days. Air strikes are ongoing, especially in southern Gaza, while on the ground, Israeli units are staying mobile. They are encountering sporadic fire from snipers and small units armed with RPGs and the like, but no systematic ambushes. The military and political echelons are split on whether to expand the operation.
On a related note, Ynet is heralding an interview given by Syrian President on BBC, in which he allegedly called on Israel to stop its operation but also called for an end to the rocket firing. If this were true, it would have to be counted not only as an important achievement for Israel but as an indicator that the rumors about an imminent cease fire announcement by Hamas have credibility. According to Ynet, Assad even addressed the arms smuggling into Gaza and voiced his opposition to it, though he did not make concrete commitments.
But here is my transcript of the BBC interview. It seems to me that Assad, although endorsing a cease fire along the lines of Security Council resolution 1860 (see full text, summary of debate), is sticking to the old Hamas line and setting the kinds of preconditions for a truce that the organization demanded before operation Cast Lead. Maybe someone else can enlighten me. I don't see him explicitly calling for an end to the rockets or to arms smuggling. The UN resolution does NOT call on Hamas to end rocket fire into Israel.
I had to laugh at several points in the interview, most notably when Assad seemed to imply that there had been no Hamas rockets fired at Israel during the truce, and when he claimed that "We don't push anyone; we make dialogue."
BBC: The Israelis say that the sort of cease fire they want is one where there are no more rockets onto their territory and where the border with Egypt is controlled so there's no arms smuggling across it. Would you accept that?
Assad: Stop sending ... launching rockets means stop assassinating Palestinians by your helicopters and airplanes. So you cannot look at one side and ignore the other side. About smuggling the arms, it is another issue that is part of the bigger solution. Syria is not involved in this issue because we don't have [a] border with Gaza.
BBC: But do you think that should be part of any cease fire?
Assad: Yes, of course. We will support [a] cease fire. We've been working with [pause] many countries, including the French, for the cease fire.
BBC: Do you support resolution 1860?
Assad: In principle we support most of it, but in the end it is ambiguous. It doesn't have any executive plan, how to implement it, that's the question.
BBC: What about the Hamas rockets into Israel? That's been going on for some time. The Israelis say that any country would respond in the way that they've responded. Do you think that's a fair point?
Assad: No, because there was truce for 6 months, and during that truce, no one of the Israelis was killed, while 38-40 Palestinians were assassinated publicly by the Israelis. So how could Hamas launch rockets and the Palestinians died? This is not logical.
BBC: But what if someone was firing rockets into Syria? You would have to respond.
Assad: Yah, but it's not only simply rockets. What if you have embargo? Embargo is a war. When the people are going to die and they have to choose between dying slowly and dying fast, they will choose dying fast.
BBC: Syria offers a base to the exiled political leader of Hamas, Khaled Mish'al ... Are you pushing him to accept a cease fire?
Assad: We don't push anyone; we make dialogue. And they accepted the cease fire, they support the cease fire. When you say cease fire, you don't want it to be just for a few days. You want it to be sustainable. Sustainable means you have certain requirements which should be available for cease fire.
BBC: What, for you, is the most important point about sustaining a cease fire then?
Assad: Israel respecting the cease fire, something never happened before. Second, to lift the embargo. Without this, you won't have sustainable cease fire.