- diplomacy - Egypt - Gaza Strip - Hamas
AFP - A senior Hamas delegation led by the Islamist movement's deputy head Mussa Abu Marzuk arrived in Cairo on Wednesday, the eve of another round of talks on a truce in the Gaza Strip.
Senior Hamas official Mohammed Nasr, a member of the delegation, said they will meet Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman on Thursday to discuss guarantees that crossings between Gaza and Israel would remain open during a truce.
"We've come for this matter, regarding the siege and guarantees (it would end)," Nasr told AFP.
"We wish to discuss with our Egyptian brothers what they can provide as guarantees ... we are looking for a mechanism," he said, adding that one possibility might be stationing European observers at the crossings.
Egypt has been mediating a truce in Gaza after Hamas and Israel declared on January 18 their own ceasefires to a devastating 22-day war in the enclave, which killed at least 1,330 Palestinians and 13 Israelis.
The fragile calm after the war ended has been tested by Palestinian rocket and mortar attacks into Israel and Israeli air strikes in Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas.
Ending the blockade has been a key Hamas demand and the reason it says it launched rockets and mortars after a six-month truce with Israel ended in November 2008. Israel said it conducted its operation in Gaza to end the rocket fire.
Israel blockaded the Gaza Strip after the Islamists violently took it over in June 2007, routing Fatah forces loyal to Palestinian Authority president Mahmud Abbas
Egypt, which controls the Rafah border crossing with the Gaza Strip, has said it will not open the crossing in the absence of European Union monitors and representatives of the Palestinian Authority of president Mahmud Abbas.
Hamas officials have said Israel offered to reopen the crossings to allow between 70 and 80 percent of goods into Gaza, barring those it says may be used to make weapons.
Hamas has demanded clarifications on the goods that would be allowed into the impoverished enclave and guarantees that Israel would not be able to re-impose the blockade.
The Islamist movement has said it would agree to an 18-month truce with Israel in exchange for an end of the blockade.
But the group has refused an Israeli demand to release an Israeli soldier militants captured in a cross-border raid from Gaza more than two years ago, saying Gilad Shalit will only be released in exchange for Palestinian prisoners.
The delegation that will meet with Suleiman is the highest ranking one yet to attend the Egyptian-mediated truce talks. This is the first visit by Abu Marzuk, who is second-in-command of Hamas's powerful politburo, to Egypt since the end of the Gaza war.
It also includes the Gaza-based Mahmud Zahar, thought to be the overall leader of Hamas in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Zahar had met with Suleiman last week before heading to Syria to consult with Hamas's Damascus-based politburo.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak had proposed during the war in Gaza a three-point plan that began with a ceasefire to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza, followed by meetings with Palestinian and Israeli officials to secure a longer truce.
The plan also proposed the resumption of Palestinian reconciliation talks -- which Egypt suggested begin on February 22 -- that had foundered in November after Hamas boycotted a meeting with its Fatah rivals in Cairo.
Hamas said the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority in the West Bank continued to arrest its members.
Hamas officials have said Egypt proposed the creation of several committees on issues that divide Fatah and Hamas, including one on political prisoners, ahead of a Fatah and Hamas reconciliation.
Fatah official Azzam al-Ahmed told the Arab television station Al-Arabiya that he met with Hamas officials on Tuesday and they discussed implementing the Egyptian proposal.
"We completely focused on the articles of the Egyptian proposal in all its details to allow the beginning of talks that are due to begin on the 22nd," he told the broadcaster.