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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The strange case of the cease fire

What does Israel have to gain from a cease fire?
Last update - 14:27 30/04/2008    
By Amos Harel, Barak Ravid, and Yoav Stern, Haaretz Correspondents  
All of the Palestinian militant factions in Egypt for talks on a cease-fire with Israel agreed on Wednesday to the proposal put forth by Cairo, Egyptian sources told Al-Jazeera and MENA, the Egyptian state news agency.
According to the report, the factions agreed that the cease-fire would begin in the Gaza Strip and extend to the West Bank at some point in the future.
"All the Palestinian factions have agreed to the Egyptian proposal on a truce with Israel," MENA said, citing an unnamed high-level Egyptian official.
The official said the Egyptian proposal included a "comprehensive, reciprocal and simultaneous truce, implemented in a graduated framework starting in the Gaza Strip and then subsequently moving to the West Bank," MENA added.
"This proposal is a phase of a broader plan that aims at providing an appropriate atmosphere before lifting the blockade and ending the state of Palestinian division," it said.
The agreement was reached after lengthy discussions in Cairo over two days. The head of Egyptian intelligence, Omar Suleiman, mediated the talks.
Egyptian sources told Haaretz the agreement will be presented to Israel in hopes of securing its cooperation as well.
Dichter: Cease-fire talks constitute legitimization of Hamas
In a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Public Security Minister Avi Dichter the fact that Israel, he says, is cooperating with Egyptian efforts to reach a cease-fire in Gaza.
"The Israeli agreement to the Egyptian process constitutes the legitimization of Hamas," Dicther said. "As long as the Egyptians aren't fulfilling their obligation to prevent weapons smuggling, there's no justification to take part in their talks."
Dichter also said that cabinet ministers are not receiving briefings on the contacts between Israel and Egypt on the matter. "It would be appropriate for the cabinet to hear from the prime minister or from the defense minister precise information on Egyptian demands, if there are any, on Israel in relation to talks with Hamas. Only afterwards will we be able to seriously discuss it," he said.
The public security minister presented to the cabinet figures showing that in the first third of 2008, 900 Qassam rockets were fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip, as opposed to only 1,100 in the entirety of 2007. He also said that since the beginning of 2008, more civilians were killed as a result of terror activity than in all of 2007 - 16, as opposed to 13.
Israel objects to outline of Gaza cease-fire deal
Israel relayed a message this week to Egypt that it objected to the outlines of the cease-fire under discussion for the Gaza Strip, since it might lead to the strengthening of Hamas and the weakening of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Meanwhile, Military Intelligence Chief Amos Yadlin warned at Tuesday's cabinet meeting that Hamas was planning a major terror attack ahead of Independence Day. Although he noted that fewer weapons were now being smuggled into the Gaza Strip from Sinai, he ascribed the reduction to the fact that during the breach in the border with Egypt at Rafah, weapons flooded into the Strip, and demand had therefore fallen.
The message Israel transmitted was given to Hossam Zaki, Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit's bureau chief, who was in Jerusalem on Sunday for meetings with senior officials in the Prime Minister's Office and the Foreign Ministry.
Israeli security sources said Tuesday that the agreement was very fragile. They said that even the more pragmatic officials of the political wing of Hamas in the Gaza Strip are now speaking mainly of a tahadiya (a short-term cessation of hostilities) and less of a hudna (a longer cease-fire). Their main consideration, beyond the lifting of economic sanctions on the Strip, is that Hamas leaders be granted immunity from assassination by Israel.
The London-based Arabic daily Al Hayat reported Tuesday that Zaki said he had studied the Israeli position on the cease-fire talks in a manner that would "assist in determining Egyptian actions at the next stage."
Zaki also told Al Hayat that Israel's recent attack on civilians in Gaza had "created an atmosphere that is difficult for the present efforts in the matter of calm in the region."
Zaki met with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's political advisor Shalom Turjeman, with Foreign Minister Director General Aharon Abramovich, and other senior Foreign Ministry officials. A government official said Zaki had been sent to Jerusalem by Aboul Gheit to present the Egyptian plan for a cease-fire.
During Zaki's meeting with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, they agreed that Livni would meet with Aboul Gheit on Friday in London, at the conference of donor countries to the Palestinian Authority. The meeting was expected to be of a conciliatory nature - the two had not met since their highly publicized confrontation in December 2007 over weapons smuggling to Sinai.
While in Jerusalem, Zaki presented four components of the Egyptian cease-fire plan: a calming of hostilities between Israel and Hamas, lifting the economic blockade of the Gaza Strip by opening the crossings with Israel on a regular schedule, the reopening of the Rafah crossing, and lastly, Egyptian action against weapons smuggling from Sinai to the Strip.
Zaki also told the Israeli officials that Egypt was concerned about a large-scale Israeli military operation to reoccupy Gaza.
The Israeli officials told Zaki that Hamas wanted the cease-fire to play for time. "If a cease-fire is made but the strengthening of Hamas is not dealt with, it will not be a good idea," an Israeli official said. "The outcome would be that the cease-fire will strengthen Hamas and weaken Abbas."
Prime Minister Olmert said in Tuesday's cabinet meeting that "as long as the terror organizations do not stop their attacks against Israeli citizens, we will have to fight to defend ourselves."

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