Mon, Feb 09, 2009 - Page 1 News List

Egypt hopes for Gaza truce deal ‘in a few days’


Egypt is hopeful that a Gaza truce accord between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas can be reached in the next few days, foreign ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki said yesterday.

“There are positive signs that in the next few days we will reach an understanding on a truce and a partial reopening of crossing points [into Gaza],” Zaki said.

Egypt has been mediating indirect talks for a lasting truce since the end of Israel’s massive 22-day onslaught on the Gaza Strip, which killed at least 1,330 Palestinians and 13 Israelis.

Fighting ended when both Israel and the Gaza Strip’s rulers called separate ceasefires on Jan. 18.

However, the fragile calm has been tested by Israeli air strikes and Palestinian rocket attacks.

On Saturday, a spokesman for Hamas said it expected an agreement with Israel on the reopening of border crossings into the Gaza Strip “within the next few days.”

Israeli and Palestinian officials have been shuttling to Cairo for talks with Egypt’s intelligence chief and mediator, Omar Suleiman, hoping for a truce deal with just two days until Israel’s election.

A Hamas delegation left Cairo on Saturday for talks on the ceasefire and Zaki said the officials would return today.

Israel, which controls all border crossings except Rafah, which is managed by Egypt, has kept the densely populated strip closed to all but essential supplies since June 2007 when Hamas seized power, ousting forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Egypt closed Rafah on Thursday, after opening it to aid and to Palestinians who were wounded during the war. Egypt has refused to permanently open the crossing in the absence of EU monitors and Abbas’ representatives.

Hamas said it was seeking clarifications on an Israeli offer to allow between 70 percent and 80 percent of goods through its crossings into Gaza, barring those it says could be used to make weapons.

Besides opening Gaza’s borders, Egypt’s truce plan also calls for Hamas and Abbas’ Fatah to reconcile and form a government that would be acceptable to the international community.

Hamas has called in the past for the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), considered by many in the international community as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people and which dominates the Palestinian Authority, to be replaced.

But Mahmud Zahar, thought to be Hamas’ overall leader in the Palestinian territories, told Al-Jazeera television yesterday that his group wanted changes to the PLO’s program, not its structure.

“We want to preserve the structure of the PLO, but not its political program, of which 28 clauses were cancelled” to conform with the 1993 Oslo accords, he said.

The accords, which paved the way for the creation of the Palestinian Authority, removed clauses in the PLO charter that called the state of Israel invalid because it was created by force on Palestinian soil.

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