Hamas 'ready for truce', Israel presses Cairo for secure borders

Hamas official Mussa Abu Marzuk confirmed to AFP that Hamas had proposed a one-year truce with Israel in exchange for its withdrawal from Gaza. Meanwhile, Israel sent its envoys to Cairo and Washington to secure border guarantees.


"Ceasefire talks gain steam, but outcome uncertain" (to read more click here)

AFP - Hamas has proposed a year-long truce with Israel if it pulls its troops from Gaza as a senior Israeli defence official was due back in Cairo on Friday to discuss an Egyptian plan to end the war.

Mussa Abu Marzuk, the Damascus-based deputy head of Hamas's powerful politburo, told AFP the offer was made by a Hamas delegation during talks in Cairo with Egyptian officials.

"Those were the movement's remarks on the Egyptian initiative, this is what we proposed," Abu Marzuk said in a telephone interview when asked about reports that Hamas had proposed a one-year-long renewable truce with Israel.

Hamas was waiting for Israel's response, he said early Friday.

"We are waiting for an answer from Egypt after they talk to (Israeli envoy) Amos Gilad," Abu Marzuk said.

A Hamas official had said on Wednesday after meeting with Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman that the movement had accepted the "broad outlines" of an Egyptian truce plan without approving it outright.

A Western diplomat familiar with the truce talks confirmed to AFP that Hamas had proposed a year-long renewable truce with Israel but said that the Jewish state expressed reservations.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak last week presented a three-point proposal to end Israel's offensive against the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, which has claimed the lives of some 1,100 Palestinians.

The initiative called for an immediate ceasefire and allowing humanitarian aid into the impoverished enclave as well as ending arms smuggling between Egypt and Gaza.

Suleiman -- Egypt's pointman on Israel-Palestinian affairs -- has been holding separate talks with Hamas and Israeli officials to find a consensus for a ceasefire.

Gilad, a senior aide to Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak, was due back in Cairo on Friday for further discussions on the Egyptian truce plan after a four-hour round of talks on Thursday with Suleiman.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert held talks with senior ministers and defence officials late on Thursday after Gilad returned from Egypt and decided to send Gilad back to Cairo for further discussions, a statement from Olmert's office said.

"Following a new round of talks it will be decided whether to convene the security cabinet" -- the only body authorised to adopt an agreement to end Israel's 21-day-old offensive against the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip -- it said.

A senior Israeli government official said the security cabinet was "unlikely to convene before Saturday."

Meanwhile French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and Middle East Quartet envoy Tony Blair told reporters in Paris that they were still hopeful for a ceasefire in the Gaza conflict.

The pair also revealed new details of the Egyptian truce plan.

Kouchner confirmed it includes a renewable one-year ceasefire, the withdrawal within five to seven days of Israeli forces from Gaza and a reopening of Gaza's frontier crossings, which Israel and Egypt have blocked.

"The basis of that plan is very clear. It is on the one hand actions to stop the smuggling of weapons into Gaza and on the other hand the opening of crossings so that Gaza can be rejoined with the outside world," Blair said.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was heading to Washington on Friday to conclude a US-Israeli agreement on measures aimed at preventing arms smuggling into Gaza.

And in Washington, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Thursday that the United States is working with Israel and regional partners to establish a durable ceasefire in Gaza.

Israel launched Operation Cast Lead on December 27 to halt rocket attacks from Gaza. The onslaught has killed more than 1,100 Palestinians and wounded at least another 5,130.

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