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MID: Israeli envoy leaves Cairo without Gaza truce deal

By Alain Navarro
17 Jan 2009 12:30 AM

CAIRO, Jan 16 AFP - Israeli defence official Amos Gilad left Cairo on Friday after the latest round of talks on Egypt's proposal for a truce in the Jewish state's conflict with Hamas, with a diplomatic source saying there was still no formal agreement on a truce.

"There will be a slackening in negotiations until Saturday or Sunday," said the diplomatic source, who is close to the negotiations aimed at ending the offensive that has killed more than 1,100 people in 21 days.

"There is no formal agreement."

The source said the Israelis had told Egyptian mediators that they rejected the idea of a one-year truce, and that Egypt had said they would argue the Israeli view with Hamas.

"Israel greatly appreciates Egypt's flexibility," the source said.

Gilad met Egyptian intelligence chief and chief mediator Omar Suleiman to tell him that the Jewish state wants an open-ended Gaza truce and will only agree to Palestinian Authority forces on the enclave's border with Egypt.

Gilad, a close aide to Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak, was to return to Israel and report his latest round of talks to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for the second time in as many days.

His visit came after Hamas deputy head Mussa Abu Marzuk said the Islamists offered a year-long renewable ceasefire in exchange for Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and an end to its crippling blockade of the territory.

But on Friday, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal told a regional summit on the Gaza crisis in Doha that the Islamists would not accept Israel's ceasefire terms.

"I assure you, despite all the destruction in Gaza, we will not accept Israel's conditions for a ceasefire," he said.

"Our demands are: That the agression stops; that the enemy retreats completely from Gaza; that the blockade is lifted without ever returning to it; and that the border crossing at Rafah is opened," Meshaal said, adding that only Egyptian and Palestinian forces should supervise the border.

Israel has said it also wants clarification on the steps Cairo will take to counter arms smuggling into the Hamas-run Gaza Strip from Egyptian territory.

"The prime minister refuses any kind of upgraded tahadiya (calm) and opposes limiting the ceasefire to a specific timeframe," one senior Israeli official said.

"We don't mind if we call it renewable or something else, but there can be no time limit," he said.

"The other issue is what type of mechanism Egypt has agreed on with Hamas on the presence of PA forces at the Rafah crossing," he said, referring to Gaza's only border crossing that bypasses Israel.

Another government official told AFP that "Israel will reject anything other than PA forces stationed at Rafah within the framework of the 2005 agreement" that foresaw Egypt and the PA running the crossing with EU observers and Israel monitoring with real-time cameras.

The Egyptian truce initiative, announced last week, proposed an immediate ceasefire and allowing humanitarian aid into the impoverished enclave as well as ending arms smuggling to Gaza.

Egyptian officials said on Thursday that Gilad had responded favourably in his talk with Suleiman.

"We hope we're heading toward the end," Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said, adding that "obviously that does not only depend on us".

"There is a lot of diplomatic activity and at the same time the military pressure on Hamas continues," he said.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was due in Washington on Friday to conclude a US-Israeli agreement on measures aimed at preventing arms smuggling into Gaza. Israel has said it would not agree to a truce that allowed Hamas to rearm.

On Thursday, in Paris, Middle East Quartet envoy Tony Blair said: "The basis of that (Egyptian) 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."