Hamas accepts 18-month Gaza truce

CAIRO: Hamas has accepted an 18-month truce with Israel in the Gaza Strip, the Egyptian media reported on Friday.

“We agreed to the truce with the Israeli side for one year and a half,” Hamas politburo deputy chief Moussa Abu-Marzouk said in a statement, adding that Gaza’s six border crossings should be re-opened and the Jewish country must “stop military actions and aggressions in all forms”.

Marzouk also said Egypt will announce the result of the truce talks “within two days”, after contacting Israel and other Palestinian factions.

The breakthrough came Thursday after intensive talks between a Hamas delegation led by Marzouk and Egyptian intelligence chief and pointman for the truce talks, Omar Suleiman.

Egypt has been endeavoring to secure a lasting truce to replace the fragile ceasefire, declared Jan 18 separately by both Israel and Hamas movement, ending Israel’s 22-day massive assault in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

Over 1,300 Palestinians were killed and 5,500 others wounded during the war, while 14 Israelis have died since the launch of the deadly offensive in Gaza Dec 27.

source : jang.com.pk


Egypt, Hamas discuss ‘lasting’ truce with Israel

CAIRO: A Hamas team met Egypt’s intelligence chief Omar Suleiman in a bid to clinch a lasting truce in the war-battered Gaza Strip, days after an Israeli negotiator held similar talks in Cairo.

But even as Egypt pushed on with its diplomatic drive, Hamas vowed to keep arming Gaza militants and an Israeli official warned that a Hamas leader will be unable to move freely if an Israeli soldier is not freed.

Egypt closed its Rafah crossing point with Gaza for fear that Israel might renew its attacks on the smuggling tunnels, security officials said.

Egyptian media reported that Suleiman and the Hamas officials discussed “Egyptian efforts to consolidate the ceasefire, reach a (permanent) truce, reopen Gaza crossings and resume Palestinian national dialogue.”

Hamas and Egyptian officials were tight-lipped about the talks, held behind closed doors and attended by members of the group’s powerful Syria-based politburo and a delegation from Gaza. Suleiman, Egypt’s point man for Palestinian-Israeli affairs, met separately with Hamas and Israeli officials during the 22-day assault to push for acceptance of an Egyptian plan to end the onslaught.

Israel launched Operation Cast Lead on December 27 to halt rocket attacks from Gaza and stop arms trafficking from Egypt, and has warned it will strike again if Hamas is allowed to rearm.

Hamas has also threatened to resume fighting if Israel does not reopen the crossings into Gaza, where 1,330 Palestinians were killed during the onslaught, almost a third of them children. Thirteen Israelis were also killed.

source : jang.com.pk

Obama feels our ‘distress’: Israel’s Netanyahu

JERUSALEM: Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, tipped in the polls to become the next prime minister, said Tuesday that US President-elect Barack Obama understands the “distress” of Israelis.

“I took away the impression that Barack Obama understood our distress very well as well as the cruelty of the enemies we face,” the former Israeli prime minister said army radio just hours before Obama’s inauguration. Netanyahu was referring to Hamas Islamists after Israel’s 22-day offensive on their Gaza Strip stronghold, which killed more than 1,300 Palestinians before a ceasefire took effect on Sunday. “He (Obama) also understands the dangers that Iranian nuclear armaments would represent,” said the Likud Party leader who met Obama in Israel last July.

source : jang.com.pk

Hamas authority must be respected: Turkish PM

BRUSSELS: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Monday that the international community must not marginalise Hamas after its war with Israel.

Erdogan, speaking on a visit to the European Union headquarters in Brussels, said that the militant Islamist group had clearly won elections in Gaza in 2007 and this had to be respected.

“We should not be squeezing them into the corner because you would get extremism, if you invite them to succeed, you will see what they can do. If they are not successful they will lose the next time,” Erdogan said in a speech at a European Policy Center conference.

“If we are to move towards democracy in that region then we should respect the decision of the people who went to the ballot box,” the Turkish premier, whose ruling party comes from Islamist roots, added.

source : jang.com.pk

Israel bombards Hamas hours before cease-fire vote

JERUSALEM – Israel‘s top leadership met Saturday to approve a unilateral cease-fire that would halt the devastating 22-day offensive against the Hamas rulers of Gaza.

The 12-member Security Cabinet is expected to back an Egyptian-brokered proposal for a 10-day cease-fire with no sign of a commitment by Hamas to stop the rocket fire on southern Israel that sparked the conflict.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak indicated Israel’s readiness for a cease-fire, saying the country “was very close to achieving its goals and securing them through diplomatic agreements.” He spoke during a trip to southern Israel, which has been the target of militant rocket fire.

In the hours leading up to the vote, Israel kept up its bombardment of dozens of Hamas targets in Gaza.

Gaza’s Hamas rulers have sent mixed signals on whether the group would reciprocate.

Hamas’ exiled leadership vowed to continue the fight against Israel. Osama Hamdan, a top Hamas official based in Lebanon, said the group would not halt its attacks until Israel withdraws its troops from Gaza and ends its blockade of the seaside strip.

“If any vision does not achieve these things, then we will continue in the battle on the ground,” he said.

But after weeks of heavy losses, leaders inside Gaza have signaled they are ready for a deal. A Hamas delegation was in Cairo for more truce negotiations.

Palestinian medics say the fighting has killed at least 1,140 Palestinians — roughly half of them civilians — and Israel’s bombing campaign caused massive destruction in the Gaza Strip. Thirteen Israelis have been killed, according to the government.

If the truce is approved, fighting would stop immediately for 10 days. Israeli forces would remain in Gaza during that time and the territory’s border crossing with Israel and Egypt would remain closed until security arrangements are made to prevent Hamas arms smuggling.

If the cease-fire is approved, it was not clear how Israel would respond to violations of a cease-fire.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni indicated that Israel would renew its offensive if Hamas militants continued to fire rockets at Israel after Israel declared a truce.

“This campaign is not a one-time event,” she said in an interview with the Israeli YNet news Web site. “The test will be the day after. That is the test of deterrence.”

Israel launched the offensive on Dec. 27 to try to halt near-daily Hamas rocket attacks against southern Israel. Its key demand is for guarantees that Hamas halt the smuggling of rockets, explosives and other weapons through the porous Egyptian border.

Under the deal, Egypt would shut down weapons smuggling routes with international help and discussions on opening Gaza’s blockaded border crossings — Hamas’ key demand — would take place at a later date.

Cabinet minister Shaul Mofaz, who will attend Saturday night’s Security Cabinet meeting, said any deal would also require a mechanism for negotiating the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit who was captured by Hamas more than two years ago.

The Israeli vote was set after Israel and the U.S. signed on Friday a “memorandum of understanding” in Washington that calls for expanded intelligence cooperation to prevent Hamas from rearming.

The agreement outlines a framework under which the United States commits detection and surveillance equipment, as well as logistical help and training to Israel, Egypt and other nations to be used in monitoring Gaza’s land and sea borders.

Livni, who signed the deal, called it “a vital complement for a cessation of hostility.”

The vote comes just days ahead of Barack Obama’s inauguration as president on Tuesday.

Egypt has been a key interlocutor in weeks of negotiations to end the assault on Gaza sparked by years of Hamas rocket fire at southern Israel.

“I demand Israel today stop its military operations immediately,” Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said. “I demand from its leaders an immediate and unconditional cease-fire and I demand from them a full withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Strip.”

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit dismissed the U.S.-Israel agreement Saturday, saying his country would not be bound by its terms.

The U.S. and Israel can “do what they wish with regard to the sea or any other country in Africa, but when it comes to Egyptian land, we are not bound by anything except the safety and national security of the Egyptian people and Egypt’s ability to protect its borders,” Aboul Gheit told reporters.

The comments by Egyptian officials could indicate frustration over Israeli and American efforts to broker their own deal to stem smuggling into Gaza after weeks of Egyptian mediation for an agreement. They could also be intended to tell the domestic audience that Egypt’s role will not be dictated by outside powers. Egypt’s cooperation will be critical to prevent arms being smuggled into Gaza for Hamas.

The comments by Egyptian officials could indicate frustration over Israeli and American efforts to broker their own deal to stem smuggling into Gaza after weeks of Egyptian mediation for an agreement. Egypt’s cooperation will be critical in efforts to prevent arms being smuggled into Gaza for Hamas.

Israel Radio reported that a truce summit could be held in Egypt as early as Sunday with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Israeli leaders in attendance.

Speaking to Lebanon’s parliament Saturday, Ban said Hamas must stop rocket attacks on Israel and the Jewish state must immediately end its offensive and withdraw its troops from Gaza.

“We cannot wait for all the details, the mechanisms, to be conclusively negotiated and agreed, while civilians continue to be traumatized, injured or killed,” he said. “We have no more time to lose. We demand an immediate cease-fire,” said Ban.

In the meantime, there was no slowdown in the offensive. A total of 13 Palestinians were killed in battles throughout Gaza Saturday, Palestinian medics said.

Israeli warplanes dropped bombs during the night on suspected smuggling tunnels in the southern border town of Rafah. The bombs could be heard whistling through the air, shook the ground upon impact and left a dusty haze in the air.

In the northern town of Beit Lahiya, Israeli shells struck a U.N. school where 1,600 people had sought shelter to flee the fighting. One shell scored a direct hit on the top floor of the three-story building, killing two boys, U.N. officials said. An adjacent room was turned into a blackened mess of charred concrete and twisted metal bed frames.

John Ging, the top U.N. official in Gaza, condemned the attack — the latest in a series of Israeli shellings that have struck U.N. installations.

“The question that has to be asked is for all those children and all those innocent people who have been killed in this conflict. Were they war crimes? Were they war crimes that resulted in the deaths of the innocents during this conflict? That question has to be answered,” he said.

The Israeli army said it was launching a high-level investigation into the shelling, as well as four other attacks that hit civilian targets, including the U.N. headquarters in Gaza. The army investigation also includes the shelling of a hospital, a media center and the home of a well-known doctor.

An Israeli military spokesman said the investigations would be handled at the command level. He spoke on condition of anonymity pending a formal announcement.

Previously, Israel has accused Hamas of using schools, mosques, hospitals and residential areas to stage attacks.

The military said its planes struck 50 Hamas locations overnight, including rocket-launching sites, smuggling tunnels, weapons storehouses, bunkers and minefields. Some five rockets were fired into Israel, causing minor damage but no injuries, the army said.

Israeli troops entered a small central Gaza town and nearby housing project, taking over houses and positioning on rooftops. Hamas militants fired assault rifles, mortars and rockets at the Israeli forces in tanks and military vehicles, the sound of clashes audible from Gaza City. Warplanes fired missiles at buildings and nearby farms, witnesses said.

“A shell landed in my bedroom and we are now sitting in the kitchen. We are 17 people here,” Jihan Sarsawi, a resident of the housing project, said by telephone. She said residents were trapped in their homes.


Ibrahim Barzak reported from Gaza. Associated Press reporter Alfred de Montesquiou contributed to this report from Rafah, Gaza Strip.

source : news.yahoo.com

UN demands probe after new Israeli strike on its school in Gaza

GAZA CITY: United Nations officials on Saturday demanded an investigation into a new Israeli strike on a UN-run school in Gaza, which killed a woman and a child in the fourth such attack during its war on Hamas.

More than one dozen people were wounded when Israeli shells hit the school compound in the northern town of Beit Lahiya where some 1,600 people had taken refuge to escape fierce clashes outside, officials said. The UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA condemned the attack and called for an investigation.

source : jang.com.pk

Hamas threatens to fight on if Israel ceases fire unilaterally

CAIRO: Hamas official Osama Hemdan said on Saturday that the Islamist group will fight on if Israel orders a unilateral ceasefire in Gaza.

“This unilateral ceasefire does not foresee a withdrawal” by the Israeli army, said Hemdan, the movement’s Lebanon representative.

“As long as it remains in Gaza, resistance and confrontation will continue,” he told foreign news agency by telephone.

He said that Israel’s proposal for a unilateral ceasefire, which was to be put to a vote of the security cabinet later on Saturday, was an “attempt to derail the Egyptian plan” for a reciprocal truce.

source : jang.com.pk

Hamas nearing victory in Gaza conflict: PM Haniya

GAZA CITY: Hamas is nearing victory in its war against Israel, Ismail Haniya, the head of the Islamist movement’s government in the Gaza Strip, said on Monday.

“We are approaching victory,” he said in a televised address.

“The blood which has flowed will not have flowed in vain as it will bring us victory, thanks be to God,” Haniya added on the 17th day of Israel’s offensive which has so far killed more than 900 Palestinians.

source : jang.com.pk

Israeli leader warns Hamas of ‘iron fist’

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert stood within Hamas rocket range Monday and warned Islamic militants that they face an “iron fist” unless they agree to Israeli terms for an end to war in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas showed no signs of wavering, however, with its leader, Ismail Haniyeh, saying the militants were “closer to victory.”

Despite the tough words, Egypt said it was making slow progress in brokering a truce, and special Mideast envoy Tony Blair said elements were in place for a cease-fire.

As Olmert spoke in the Israeli city of Ashkelon, Israeli tanks, gunboats and warplanes hammered suspected hiding places of Hamas operatives who control the poor, densely populated territory just across the border.

After nightfall, flares and explosions lit up the sky over Gaza and heavy gunfire was heard in parts of the coastal territory of 1.4 million people.

Hamas’ fighters battled Israeli troops on the outskirts of Gaza City and launched 15 rockets at southern Israel. The group’s prime minister insisted on an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and the opening of blockaded border crossings as part of any truce.

“As we are in the middle of this crisis, we tell our people we, God willing, are closer to victory. All the blood that is being shed will not go to waste,” Haniyeh said on Hamas’ Al Aqsa television. But he said the group was also pursuing a diplomatic track to end the conflict that “will not close.”

Haniyeh sat a desk in a room with a Palestinian flag and a Quran in the background. His location was unclear; Israeli airstrikes have targeted militant chiefs, and most are in hiding.

The fighting began Dec. 27 and has killed more than 900 Palestinians, about half of them civilians, according to Palestinian medical officials. Thirteen Israelis, including 10 soldiers, have been killed.

As diplomats struggled for traction in truce efforts, Olmert said Israel would only end military operations if Hamas stops rocketing Israel, as it has done for years, and is unable to rearm after combat subsides.

“Anything else will be met with the Israeli people’s iron fist,” Olmert said. “We will continue to strike with full strength, with full force until there is quiet and rearmament stops.”

A few hours before Olmert spoke, a rocket hit a house in Ashkelon but caused no casualties. Olmert addressed regional mayors in the relative safety of the basement of a public building during his two-hour visit; he has toured other towns hit by rockets since the war began.

Later, he tempered his tough talk, saying: “I really hope that the efforts we are making with the Egyptians these days will ripen to a result that will enable us to end the fighting.”

Ashkelon is 10 miles from the border with Gaza. The Israeli military says Hamas has Iranian-supplied rockets that can reach 25 miles into southern Israel.

Inside Gaza, an Israeli battalion commander identified only as Lt. Col. Yehuda said troops had not met significant resistance and had found several houses booby-trapped either with regular explosives, or by sealing the windows and doors and opening cooking gas valves.

“A couple of days ago, an armed squad popped up from a tunnel that was concealed by a nearby building. We took them out with tank fire and a bulldozer,” he said.

In another incident, the commander said, his men spotted a suicide bomber on a bicycle.

“He ran off to take cover in a building, presumably to draw us in,” Yehuda said. “We demolished the building on top of him with a bulldozer.”

Brig. Gen. Eyal Eisenberg said troops were “tightening the encirclement” of Gaza City and were “constantly on the move.”

The comments by Yehuda and Eisenberg were approved by Israeli military censors. They spoke to a small group of reporters who accompanied Israeli units inside Gaza. Israeli forces have not allowed journalists to enter Gaza to cover the war.

Israeli warplanes pounded suspected Hamas positions in Gaza City, and navy gunboats fired at least 25 shells. Smoke billowed over buildings.

At least 20 Palestinians died Monday, some of them from wounds suffered on previous days, Gaza health officials said.

A girl, a doctor and a Hamas militant were killed in the northern Gaza Strip, said Basim Abu Wardeh, head of Kamal Adwan hospital.

The doctor rushed to evacuate the wounded from a building where two airstrikes had taken place and was killed by a third, Abu Wardeh said. Four other medics were injured, one critically.

The Israeli military said four soldiers were injured, one seriously, in what an initial inquiry concluded was a “friendly fire” incident in northern Gaza.

Israel has sent reserve units into Gaza to help thousands of ground forces already in the territory, and fighting has persisted despite a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for a cease-fire. Egypt has assumed a role as mediator between Israel and Hamas.

Talks “are progressing slowly but surely because each party wants to score some points,” Hossam Zaki, the spokesman for Egypt’s Foreign Ministry, told the British Broadcasting Corp. “We would like to be able to bridge some gaps and then proceed immediately to a cease-fire.”

Zaki, however, said Egypt could not provide certain guarantees that Israelis seek, such as a halt to rocket fire.

“We’ll enhance our efforts, but this is not an issue between Israel and Egypt,” Zaki told the BBC. “It is an issue between Israel and Gaza, and this is something that will have to be worked out, as the (U.N.) Security Council says, in Gaza.”

Much of the diplomacy focuses on an area of southern Gaza just across the Egyptian border known as the Philadelphi corridor that serves as a weapons smuggling route, making Egypt critical to both sides in any deal. The name of the corridor is an Israel military label.

Israel wants those routes sealed and monitored as part of any peace deal, and has been bombing tunnels that run under that border.

“I think the elements of an agreement for the immediate cease-fire are there,” Blair said in Cairo. He added that, while more work needed to be done, he hoped to see a cease-fire “in the coming days.”

Israeli Defense Ministry official Amos Gilad planned to travel Tuesday to Egypt for talks.

In Paris, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said European military observers should be sent to Gaza to monitor any eventual cease-fire.

Israel’s chief military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Avi Benayahu, said the fighting was “difficult and complex” and that Hamas militants were setting boobytraps and firing missiles from the rooftops of civilian homes.

“There is a whole city built underground in Gaza. Lots of big weapons warehouses,” Benayahu said. Soldiers also uncovered a tunnel dug inside Gaza that led 300 yards into Israel, he said.

In Monday’s fighting, the army said it carried out more than 25 airstrikes, hitting squads of gunmen, mortar launchers and two vehicles carrying Hamas militants.

It said ground troops came under fire from militants in a mosque. An Israeli aircraft attacked the squad, and Israeli troops then took over the mosque, confiscating rockets and mortar shells.

With Israeli troops surrounding Gaza’s main population centers, Israeli leaders have said the operation is close to achieving its goals. Security officials say they have killed hundreds of Hamas fighters, including top commanders, but there has been no way to confirm the claims.

Aid agencies said they have resumed relief operations in Gaza, but fighting still prevents them from evacuating the sickest people and reaching all those who need help.

The international Red Cross said it brought in seven truckloads of medical supplies and would distribute them to hospitals overwhelmed by the influx of patients.

International aid groups, however, say Israel is not doing enough to protect Palestinian civilians as well as aid workers. Tens of thousands of people have been displaced and many basic food items are no longer available, the office of the U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator said.

As many 88 percent of Gaza’s residents now require food aid, up from 80 percent before the war, said Helene Gayle, president of the international aid agency CARE.

The three-hour lull in fighting that Israel allows for humanitarian aid to move around Gaza is not sufficient, she said.


Barzak reported from Gaza City; Torchia from Jerusalem. Carley Petesch in New York and Eliane Engeler contributed to this report.

source : news.yahoo.com

Israel pounds new Hamas targets, enlists reserves

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Israeli warplanes pounded the homes of Hamas leaders and ground troops edged closer to the Gaza Strip‘s densely-populated urban center Monday, as Israel stepped up the pressure ahead of deciding whether to escalate its devastating two-week offensive.

From downtown Gaza City black smoke could be seen rising over the eastern suburbs, where the two sides skirmished throughout the night. At least six Palestinians were killed in the new airstrikes or died from their wounds on Monday, Gaza health officials said. One of the dead was a militant killed in a northern Gaza battle.

Despite the tightening Israeli cordon, however, militants still managed to fire off at least four rockets Monday morning. There were no reports of injuries, though one rocket scored a direct hit on a house in the southern city of Ashkelon.

The army announced Sunday that it had begun sending reserve units into Gaza to assist thousands of ground forces already in the territory. The use of reserves is a strong signal that Israel is planning to move the offensive, which already has killed some 870 Palestinians, into a new, more punishing phase.

Israel launched the offensive on Dec. 27, bombarding Gaza with dozens of airstrikes before sending in ground forces a week later. The operation is meant to halt years of Palestinian rocket attacks on southern Israel. Fighting has persisted despite international calls for a cease-fire. Thirteen Israelis, including 10 soldiers, have died.

With Israeli troops already surrounding Gaza’s main population centers, Israeli leaders have given mixed signals on how much further the army is ready to push, saying the operation is close to achieving its goals but vowing to press forward with overwhelming force.

“Israel is a country that reacts vigorously when its citizens are fired upon, which is a good thing,” Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told Israel Radio on Monday. “That is something that Hamas now understands and that is how we are going to react in the future, if they so much as dare fire one missile at Israel.”

Israeli security officials believe they have struck a tough blow against Hamas, killing hundreds of the Islamic militant group‘s fighters, including top commanders. The director of the Shin Bet security agency told the Cabinet on Sunday that Hamas leaders in Gaza are ready to surrender.

The army also says Hamas has been avoiding pitched battles against the advancing Israelis, resorting instead to guerrilla tactics as its fighters melt into crowded residential areas.

Maj. Avital Leibovich, an army spokeswoman, said residential neighborhoods in Gaza are riddled with booby traps and explosives, and in some cases dummies are placed at apartment entrances to simulate militants and rigged to explode if soldiers approach.

Hamas, at least publicly, has vowed to continue fighting.

Israeli ground forces made their deepest foray yet into Gaza City on Sunday, with tanks rolling into residential neighborhoods and infantry fighting urban warfare in streets in buildings with Hamas militants, Palestinian residents said.

The army “is advancing more into urban areas,” Leibovich said. “Since the majority of the Hamas militants are pretty much in hiding in those places, mainly urban places, then we operate in those areas.”

Israeli leaders are expected to decide in the next day or two on whether to push the offensive into a third phase — in which the army takes over larger areas of Gaza. This move would require the use of thousands of reserve units massed on the border with Gaza.

A push into densely crowded urban areas would threaten the lives of many more civilians. More than 20,000 Palestinians have already fled Gaza’s rural border areas and crowded into nearby towns, staying with relatives and at U.N. schools turned into makeshift shelters.

International aid groups have repeatedly said Israel must do more to protect Palestinian civilians, who are believed to make up about half of the dead.

Defense officials said several thousand reservists were already in Gaza as part of preparations for the new phase.

Israeli President Shimon Peres thanked hundreds of reservists and wished them luck while visiting a base in southern Israel on Monday.

“I don’t think Israel has ever had an army better trained, organized and sophisticated than you,” he said, according to a statement released by his office.

For the time being, the units have been taking over areas cleared out by the regular troops, allowing those forces to push forward toward new targets. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were discussing classified operational strategy.

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said Israel is “very close” to achieving its three key goals: destroying Hamasmilitary capabilities, ending the rocket fire and preventing it from rearming.

He would not say whether the next phase of the offensive would take place, saying in any case that the reserve units could be used against “quality targets” such as bunkers and command posts.

Early Monday, Israeli navy gunboats fired more than 25 shells at Gaza City, setting fires and shaking office buildings, including the local bureau of The Associated Press. The military said that in general, the targets are Hamas installations but had no immediate information about the shelling that began just after midnight.

German and British envoys pressed efforts to negotiate an end to the war even though Israel and Hamas have ignored a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for an immediate and durable cease-fire.

Israel is demanding an end to years of rocket attacks, as well as international guarantees to prevent Hamas from smuggling weapons into Gaza through the porous Egyptian border. This complex goal would require Egyptian or international help in shutting off the smuggling routes.

Israel has been bombing tunnels that run under the Egypt-Gaza border.

In an e-mail message early Monday, Hamas leader Ismail Radwan said his group would not consider a cease-fire before Israel stops its attacks and pulls back from Gaza. He also demanded opening of all border crossings, emphasizing the Rafah crossing with Egypt.

That would relieve economic pressure on the destitute territory but also strengthen Hamas control of Gaza, an odious prospect for Israelis who fear a halt to the fighting will just give Hamas another opportunity to re-arm.

In Cairo, Egypt’s state-owned news agency reported progress in truce talks with Hamas but provided no specifics. The Middle East News Agency quoted an unnamed Egyptian official as saying talks between the nation’s intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, and Hamas envoys were “positive.”

International Mideast envoy Tony Blair was in Cairo on Monday, telling reporters that “the elements of an agreement” for a cease-fire are in place.

In Paris, the French foreign minister said Monday that European military observers should be sent to Gaza to monitor any eventual cease-fire.

“There need to be European observers,” Bernard Kouchner said on Europe-1 radio, adding that the group could be expanded to include monitors from other regions. He said they should include military observers, “to testify to the maintained cease-fire.”

Germany’s foreign minister suggested Sunday that Egypt and Israel were favorable to having international experts deployed at the Gaza-Egyptian frontier to stop arms smuggling. Kouchner, however, said Monday that “neither the Egyptians nor the Israelis want international observers on their territory for the moment.”


Barzak reported from Gaza City and Federman from Jerusalem.

source : news.yahoo.com