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Israel, Hamas hold out for more gains in Gaza war

Monday - 7/28/2014, 4:18am  ET

Palestinians walk past the rubble of houses destroyed by Israeli strikes in Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza Strip, Sunday, July 27, 2014. Hamas on Sunday agreed to observe a 24-hour humanitarian truce ahead of a major Muslim holiday after initially rejecting such an offer by Israel, as the two sides wrangled over setting the terms of a lull the international community hopes can be expanded into a more sustainable truce. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

KARIN LAUB
Associated Press

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) -- Israel and Hamas are holding out for bigger gains in the Gaza war, helping explain the failure of the world's most influential diplomats to broker even a precursor to a lasting cease-fire.

Hamas wants to break the seven-year blockade of Gaza and believes the only way to force serious negotiations on ending the closure is to keep fighting. Israel wants more time to destroy Hamas' rocket arsenal and military tunnels and to inflict enough pain to deter the Islamic militant group from launching rocket attacks in the future. In a further complication, regional rivals have lined up on opposite sides and no trusted mediator has emerged.

Here's a look at what each player wants.

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HAMAS

Hamas was in its worst shape ever before the July 8 start of its third war with Israel since 2009. The Islamic militant group, which seized Gaza in 2007, was caught in a financial crisis that threatened its ability to govern because Egypt had sealed border smuggling tunnels, a vital source of Hamas funding. Hamas, a branch of the region's Muslim Brotherhood, also became more isolated: Egypt turned hostile after its military deposed a Brotherhood-led government in Cairo, while Hamas previously had already fallen out with patron Syria and to some extent with Iran.

With its back to the wall, Hamas agreed in April to give up some power to a unity government of technocrats, headed by its former rival, West Bank-based Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. But the deal faltered and by the time the war erupted, Hamas had nothing to lose.

The fighting offered a chance to focus the world's attention on the need to open Gaza. The blockade has choked not only Hamas, but Gaza's 1.7 million people.

Hamas has rejected an Egyptian plan that both sides stop fighting first and later discuss new border arrangements for Gaza. And in the coastal strip, there is support for Hamas' strategy, even among opponents of the group.

After Gaza's losses -- more than 1,000 killed, more than 6,000 wounded and hundreds of homes destroyed -- Hamas cannot return to the status quo ante, said Khaled Hroub, a Doha-based Hamas expert. "I cannot see them accepting anything that does not indicate clearly that there is a change in the siege of Gaza," he said.

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ISRAEL

Israel wants to destroy Hamas military tunnels under the Gaza-Israel border, decimate the group's ability to fire rockets and hit Hamas hard so it won't dare attack again. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu raised the idea of trying to disarm Hamas in the future, with international help, but hasn't said how.

Israel views the tunnels, used by Hamas for launching attacks, as a major threat. Only 17 of the more than 30 tunnels discovered so far have been demolished, suggesting that Israeli troops will need to remain in Gaza in coming days.

Israeli warplanes also have hit a wide range of targets in Gaza, including the homes of Hamas leaders and sites with no apparent connection to the group, such as a charity caring for the disabled. The Israeli military largely has refused to explain why specific targets were chosen, even as the United Nations says 75 percent of the dead have been civilians.

Israel ended its last ground offensive in Gaza in 2009 by withdrawing unilaterally and could end the current operation in the same way. In such a scenario, Israel would avoid prolonged negotiations over easing the Gaza closure. It could hope to win several years of quiet on the Gaza border, similar to the calm following its 2006 bombing of Lebanon that deterred that country's Hezbollah militia from cross-border attacks.

However, Israeli media say Israel is also considering expanding the operation if Hamas continues firing rockets.

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THE UNITED STATES

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spent several days in the region last week to win agreement on an immediate weeklong truce during which talks on a new Gaza border deal would begin -- a compromise between the Egyptian-Israeli and Hamas positions. However, Israel's Cabinet rejected the idea, in part because it would have meant calling off tunnel demolitions.

Kerry later met with the foreign ministers of Turkey, Qatar and several European countries in Paris. Participants raised the idea of gradually expanding brief humanitarian cease-fires into something more substantial.

Israel has offered to expand a Saturday truce, while insisting on continued tunnel demolitions. Hamas rejected the offer, viewing it as an unconditional cease-fire by another name, and resumed rocket fire. Israel, in turn, ignored a separate Hamas call Sunday for a 24-hour truce ahead of a major Muslim holiday.

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