CAIRO -- Israel and Hamas on Monday resumed indirect discussions over their fragile cease-fire in the Gaza Strip, a top Hamas official said, but he warned that violence could flare again if negotiators did not quickly come to an agreement.
In an interview with reporters in his suburban Cairo villa, Hamas deputy political leader Mousa Abu Marzook said the militant Palestinian group would continue to seek weapons, even as an Israeli delegation arrived in Cairo to begin talks over the second stage of a cease-fire agreement reached last week. He also said Hamas would not rule out renewed rocket attacks if Israel decided to attack Iran.
Mr. Abu Marzook said the Monday talks marked the second round of negotiations since the Egyptian-brokered cease-fire took effect Wednesday. He said the session would focus on Hamas' demands to loosen Israel's six-year blockade on the Gaza Strip but warned that protracted negotiations could shatter the delicate truce. "If they stall too much in any of the issues that have to do with my freedom and breaking the siege, the field is open," he said.
Israel tightly limits the movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza, including a ban on imports of most construction materials -- measures that rights groups and local officials say have crippled Gaza's economy and hindered reconstruction efforts in the wake of a 2008-09 Israeli ground invasion.
Israel also enforces a blockade on Gaza's seaport and a 500-meter buffer zone inside the border, encompassing 17 percent of Gaza's land, in which trespassing Palestinians are often shot, according to the Gisha Legal Center for the Freedom of Movement, an Israeli human rights organization.
Lifting these restrictions is key to Hamas' demands as the negotiations move forward, Mr. Abu Marzook said.
Israel and the United States have sworn off direct negotiations with Hamas, which they label a terrorist organization. Hamas and Israel have been negotiating indirectly through Egyptian messengers, Mr. Abu Marzook said.
But previous cease-fires have broken down, and the Hamas leader said the group would continue to acquire weapons, even as the two sides struggle to negotiate a long-term peace. Mr. Abu Marzook said Monday that the Palestinian resistance movements must "defend themselves."
Israel has vowed to halt Gaza militants' stockpiling of weapons, including Iranian-made long-range rockets. During the conflict, militants for the first time hit targets near Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, showing off newly powerful capabilities that brought threats closer to Israel's population centers.
Israel routinely bombs tunnels that militants use to smuggle weapons, food and other commercial goods from Egypt's poorly policed northern Sinai region. Egyptian guarantee to put a halt to the arms traffic was a key factor in Israel's willingness to stop its assault on Gaza.
But Mr. Abu Marzook said Egypt would not be able to end smuggling across its border. "There is nothing to be done," he said, adding that weapons would make their way to Gaza no matter what legal barriers are set to keep them out.
Some of those arms have been from Iran, Hamas leaders have said, suggesting that a relationship that frayed between Hamas and the Islamic republic earlier this year is on the mend. Ties had suffered after Hamas leaders abandoned their longtime base in Damascus, another close Iranian ally, amid Syria's worsening civil war.