(by Khaled Abu Toameh, Herb Keinon and Yaakov Katz, JPost.com) – Hamas announced on Wednesday that it has accepted the Egyptian cease-fire initiative “in principle” and that it was now awaiting Israel’s response.
The announcement came after a Hamas delegation concluded two days of marathon talks with representatives of the Egyptian General Intelligence Service in Cairo.
Hamas denied reports in the Egyptian media to the effect that it had accepted the Egyptian initiative unconditionally.
Jerusalem had no formal response Wednesday. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak were expected to discuss the developments at a meeting Wednesday night.
The three of them are believed to be in agreement on how to respond to the Egyptian proposal.
Barak, according to officials, is in favor of accepting it and ending the operation in the Gaza Strip, and Livni has been advocating a unilateral cease-fire on Israel’s behalf.
Sources close to Hamas said that while some progress had been achieved in the talks, it was premature to talk about a cease-fire agreement.
They said that the Egyptians put heavy pressure on the Hamas officials and even threatened them against rejecting the initiative.
“There are still some sticking points,” one of the sources said. “We still haven’t reached an agreement over the length of the proposed cease-fire and the future of the border crossings into the Gaza Strip.”
They said that Hamas is prepared to accept a short-term cease-fire with Israel, while the Egyptians were pressing for a long-term truce.
Hamas, the sources explained, is also insisting on a role in the management of the border crossings, particularly the Rafah terminal [between Gaza and Egypt].
The Egyptians want to hand over the terminal to [Fatah] forces loyal to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, which used to run the border crossing until they were kicked out [of Gaza] by Hamas in 2007.
Despite the differences, Egyptian government officials expressed optimism regarding the prospects of achieving a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel in the coming days. …
…Amos Gilad, the head of the Defense Ministry’s Diplomatic-Security Bureau, [went] to Cairo [today] for talks with Egyptian Intelligence Minister Omar Suleiman to review the cease-fire proposal and present Israel’s conditions.
Defense officials said that Gilad would return to Israel and present the plan to Barak, Livni and Olmert, who would then make the final decision of whether to accept the offer.
The IDF will likely withdraw its troops immediately following the announcement of the cease-fire, officials said.
Israeli officials said the sequence of the events would most likely be as follows:
One of the key elements to be determined is the duration of the cease-fire, with Hamas wanting another six-month cease-fire and Israel wanting something much longer.
Overnight Wednesday, France and Germany published a joint announcement calling on Israel and Hamas to cease Gaza warring. According to the statement released by German and French foreign ministers …, Berlin and Paris are willing to provide guarantees to prevent weapon smuggling into Gaza and the opening of the crossings, as part of a permanent truce to follow a temporary humanitarian cease-fire.[Israeli] Foreign Ministry Director-General Aaron Abramovich went to the US Wednesday to discuss with the Americans how to stem the tide of arms smuggling even before the arms reach the tunnels at the Gazan-Egyptian border.
At issue is how to stop the arms from going from Iran to North Africa, and then via the tunnels into Gaza.
The Israeli embassy is still in the process of lining up meetings for Abramovitch’s 24-hour visit, during which he will to try to enhance the American commitment to an international guarantee that Hamas will be prevented from rearming.
Israel sees this as a necessary component for putting a cease-fire in place.
Hamas representatives said that despite their acceptance of the Egyptian initiative, they still had a number of reservations.
“The Egyptian initiative is the only one that was presented to Hamas,” [Hamas legislator Salah] Bardaweel told reporters in Cairo.
He stressed that Hamas did not have any dispute with Egypt.
“We don’t have differences with the Egyptian leadership,” he said. “They are acting as mediators with the Zionist enemy.”
Bardaweel, who is a Hamas legislator [from the Gaza Strip], said that Hamas did not ask the Egyptians to amend their initiative.
“We didn’t ask for amendments,” he said. “We only presented our views and comments on it.”
Bardaweel added that the Hamas delegation made it clear to the Egyptians that Hamas won’t accept anything less than a halt to the “Zionist aggression,” a full Israeli withdrawal, the permanent reopening of all the border crossings and the lifting of the blockade on the Gaza Strip.
But there were clear discrepancies between Bardaweel’s comments and those of the Hamas leadership abroad, which sounded less enthusiastic about the cease-fire proposal.
Mohammed Nazzal, a senior Hamas official in Syria, said the group rejected a long-term cease-fire or the presence of an international force in the Gaza Strip and would refuse to stop the smuggling of weapons.
Nazzal said that the Hamas delegation in Cairo made it clear to the Egyptians that these demands were final and that Hamas would not make any concessions.
He said that Hamas has neither accepted nor rejected the Egyptian proposal.
“We have presented our reservations to the Egyptians and they will bring them to the Zionists,” he said in an interview with Al-Jazeera. “We told the Egyptians that if our reservations are accepted, then we will deal with the initiative in a positive manner.”
The Hamas leader denied that progress had been made during the Cairo talks, saying this was merely “media speculation.”
Osama Hamdan, the Hamas representative in Lebanon, said that the Egyptian initiative must be changed to serve the national interests of the Palestinians.
“There isn’t a political initiative that can’t be amended or changed,” he said.
“We welcome the Egyptian effort to end the Israeli aggression,” he said. “But this initiative needs to be changed so that we could solve the points of differences between us and the Egyptian brothers. It must be changed for the interests of the Palestinians.”
Arab political analysts appeared to be divided in their interpretation of the outcome of the Cairo discussions. …[One analyst] said that Bardaweel and the Hamas representatives were forced to make the announcement in Cairo so as to give the Egyptians credit for their efforts.
………..[Another analyst] predicted that a final agreement on a cease-fire would be reached in the coming days, despite Hamas’s reservations.
Hilary Leila Krieger contributed to this report from Washington.
Reprinted here for educational purposes only. May not be reproduced on other websites without permission from the Jerusalem Post. Visit the website at jpost.com.
1. What did Hamas announce regarding a cease-fire with Israel after two days of negotiations with Egyptian government officials?
2. a) Name the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and Defense Minister of Israel.
b) How are these officials reacting to Hamas’ announcement?
3. Why did sources close to Hamas contradict the official announcement made at the end of the meetings with Egypt?
4. What problems does Hamas have with the cease-fire agreement proposed by Egypt, according to one of the sources?
5. What guarantees have France and Germany made to Israel if they agree to a cease-fire with Hamas?
6. What guarantees does Israel want from the U.S. for it to agree to a cease-fire with Hamas?
7. According to Hamas negotiator Salah Bardaweel (who is from the Gaza Strip), what demands did the Hamas negotiators tell the Egyptians they must have in order to agree to a cease-fire?
8. How did Hamas leaders Mohammed Nazzal and Osama Hamdan (from Syria and Lebanon) view the discussions on a cease-fire agreement?
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