Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Hamas: Draft for Gaza truce has been reached

Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff

Haaretz Correspondents

February 5

Egypt and Hamas have reached a draft agreement on a cease-fire with Israel in the Gaza Strip, a representative from the Islamist group told the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram on Thursday.

The representative, Salah al-Bardawil, said that the draft stipulates a year-and-a-half long truce between Hamas and Israel. It also includes the opening of all border crossings for 80 percent of goods. Israel would need to clarify exactly what type of goods it would allow in, Bardawil said.

Bardawil told the Egyptian newspaper that according to the draft agreement, the Rafah crossing would be closed from time to time. He also said that Israel rejected a proposal to station international observers on the Rafah border.

Israeli security officials said Wednesday they believed Egypt and Hamas were making significant progress in drafting terms for a long-term lull in fighting in the Gaza Strip, but that a number of unresolved issues remain between the two sides.

Egypt had set Thursday as the target date for signing the agreement, but the differences in opinion mean it may take several more days or even longer before a deal is reached, with all clarifications set.

Israel is not participating in the talks, but is expected to arrive at a verbal agreement with Egypt that would allow the lull to continue at a later date.

Egypt has been pushing for an agreement that includes a lull for a year and a half, while Israel prefers to see one lasting only a year, and in the framework of a non-binding agreement.

A key issue in the negotiations is the opening of Rafah crossing, which Hamas is seeking to have opened completely, with Turkish troops monitoring its operation, in accordance with a plan drafted by the United States three years ago. Egypt is opposed to such a move, but is nevertheless seeking to place a force loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the crossing, a proposal Hamas has thus far resisted.

Another outstanding issue is the Israeli request to create a half-kilometer buffer zone in the area known as the "security parameter" on the Palestinian side of the border fence with Israel. Israel is seeking to prevent the entry of armed militants to the area to combat the placement of explosive devices or the digging of tunnels there.

Another critical issue involves the link between the release of captive Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit with the lull and the opening of crossings. Israel is demanding that even a partial opening of the crossings be dependent on progress towards Shalit's release, for example providing a clear sign the soldier is still alive. Hamas has until now opposed such a link. Egypt has expressed uncertainty in relation to its capacity to force Hamas into such an agreement, but promised Israel it would make efforts towards that end.

See also:

Newsweek - Unusual diplomatic advice

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