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Kerry: Israeli Concessions on Gaza Require Hamas “Giving Up Rockets”

Secretary of State John Kerry told BBC on Tuesday that any moves to “open crossings and get food in and reconstruct and have greater freedom” in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip must be coupled “with a greater responsibility towards Israel, which means giving up rockets.”

Jerusalem and the Palestinian terror group are have been engaged in a several-month hot war, which escalated dramatically several weeks ago when Hamas activated its offensive tunnel network and dispatched over a dozen commandos against a sparsely populated and lightly defended Israel border community.

Kerry’s statement echoes comments by U.S. officials stretching back to the opening of the current round of hostilities, with Obama administration officials being explicit that disarming Hamas must be part of any Israeli draw-down or ceasefire. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel  explicitly called for Hamas to be disarmed as long ago as last month:

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has called for a humanitarian cease-fire that would lead to a permanent end to the fighting in Gaza as well as the disarmament of Hamas.

Pentagon Press Secretary NaAVY Rear Adm. John Kirby said Hagel called for the cease-fire and expressed concern about the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths as well as the loss of Israeli lives during a phone call today with Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon. At the same time, Kirby said Hagel also reiterated U.S. support for Israel’s security and its right to self defense and said that any process to resolve the crisis in Gaza in a lasting and meaningful way must lead to the disarmament of Hamas and all terrorist groups.

On Tuesday State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki had been explicit that the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip is “certainly something we support.”

Hamas is estimated to still possess roughly 3,000 rockets that would have to be seized by a mediating authority, after the other two-thirds of the group’s arsenal was either deployed or destroyed during Israel’s Operation Protective Edge.

Psaki has in recent days been pressed by reporters questioning the degree to which the State Department remains committed to fulfilling previous agreements – committing both the Palestinian Authority and Washington – to keeping illegal weapons of the kind possessed by Hamas out of Gaza.

The Palestinian Authority is obligated by the Wye Accords to “establish and vigorously and continuously implement a systematic program for the collection and appropriate handling” of any weapons in the Gaza Strip except those permitted by the earlier 1995 Oslo II agreements [PDF], which quite pointedly exclude Hamas’s arsenal. Hamas leaders continue to dismiss any suggestion that the group would consent to give up its rocket arsenal.

[Photo: BBC HARDtalk / YouTube]