Sat, Feb 14, 2009 - Page 1 News List

Hamas accepts truce deal with Israel: deputy leader

AFP , JERUSALEM AND CAIRO

Gaza militants fired two rockets into southern Israel yesterday, only hours after a senior Hamas member said the Islamists had accepted an Egyptian-brokered truce for Palestinian territory.

An Israeli army spokesman said the short-range rockets exploded near the city of Sderot — a frequent target of attacks from the Hamas-ruled enclave — causing no casualties.

The latest attacks came just hours after Egypt’s official news agency MENA said Hamas had accepted an 18-month truce with Israel in and around Gaza, with an announcement to be made soon.

“We have agreed to the truce with the Israeli side for a year and a half [in return] for the opening of all six passages between the Gaza Strip and Israel,” Hamas’ deputy leader Mussa Abu Marzuk said late on Thursday.

Egypt will announce the agreement after contacting Israel and the Palestinian factions, he told MENA after talks with Cairo mediators.

Israel has yet to comment.

Israel imposed a crippling blockade of Gaza after Hamas seized control of the territory in a week of vicious street battles in June 2007, ousting Fatah loyalists of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Ending the blockade has been a key Hamas demand and the reason it says it launched rockets and mortar rounds into Israel after another Egyptian brokered six-month truce that expired in December.

GILAD SHALIT

Abu Marzuk, who headed a senior Hamas delegation in Cairo, said difficulties that had prevented an agreement have been resolved, especially the issue of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

Israel had insisted that Hamas release Shalit, captured by Palestinian militants more than two years ago, as a condition for ending its blockade of Gaza.

Marzuk said that Shalit has been removed from the Gaza truce deal and that he will be released in exchange for Palestinian prisoners.

Osama Hamdan, Hamas’ representative in Lebanon, said that that “we have surpassed the Shalit issue,” adding that Hamas did not want to hold Shalit indefinitely but wanted to exchange him for Palestinian prisoners.

“There are ongoing efforts for the Shalit issue but they are separate from the truce,” he said.

WEAPONS

Hamas officials have said that Israel offered to open its crossings into Gaza to allow between 70 percent and 80 percent of goods into the coastal enclave, barring those it says could be used to make weapons.

Preventing Hamas from obtaining more weapons was a key objective of Israel’s 22-day war in December and last month on the Islamists.

Mohammed Nasr, a senior Hamas official based in Damascus and a member of the delegation, said on the eve of Thursday’s meeting that the delegation would seek guarantees that Israel would not reimpose the blockade after a truce.

Hamdan said after the meeting with Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, who has been mediating between Israel and Hamas as the two sides refuse to talk to each other, that Egypt had offered “reasonable guarantees.”

“The truce will open the crossings with guarantees of the passage of needed goods into Gaza,” he said by telephone from Beirut.

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