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Egyptian Negotiators Meeting With Hamas Delegation Over Cease-Fire


Egyptian mediators will be conferring with a Hamas delegation from both Gaza and Damascus in a bid to broker a long-term truce with Israel, after sounding out the views and positions of Israel from its envoy, Amos Gilad, Thursday.

Painstaking and tedious behind-the-scenes negotiations are getting under way in the coming hours between Egyptian mediators and Hamas representatives, in a bid to strengthen the ceasefire in Gaza and broker a long-term truce with Israel.

Egyptian Intelligence Chief General Omar Suleiman, who brokered the last six-month truce between Israel and Hamas in February, met with Israeli Defense Ministry envoy Amos Gilad to hear Israel's position, Thursday.

An Egyptian staged-peace plan for Gaza is at the center of negotiations, building on an initial ceasefire, then moving on to the re-opening of border crossings into Gaza, followed by reconciliation between rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah.

Egyptian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Husam Zaki describes what Egypt is trying to achieve, now that the first phase of its peace initiative, an unconditional ceasefire in Gaza is apparently holding.

"The implementation of the second phase of the Egyptian initiative about arrangements for the coming period, how we're going to tackle that, and what the Israeli representative has offered and agreed on and we'll take it from there," he said.

Hamas' representative to Jordan, Mohammed Nazzal, explained point-by-point what the discussions will entail.

What's on the table, he says, is an open, unlimited truce being offered by Israel and we've expressed our views on it to Egypt. He said, the second point, to be discussed is the reopening of border crossings, in particular Rafah, and the conditions for reopening it. He said the third point, which [Israeli envoy Amos] Gilad insisted on during his last visit to Cairo, concerns the case of [captive] Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. And he said the fourth point involves arms smuggling which Hamas thinks does not concern it, because the smuggling is taking place from Egypt into Gaza, and not from Gaza into Egypt.

The Israeli daily Ha'aretz reports that Hamas is insisting that Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit's release be linked to a widescale prisoner exchange with Israel, but not linked to the reopening of border crossings. Shalit was taken captive by Hamas in June of 2006.

One crucial aspect of the Egyptian peace plan, a reconciliation between Hamas and the rival Fatah group of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, does not apparently sit well with Hamas.

Al Jazeera TV says that Egypt has invited representatives from Fatah and other Palestinian groups, for weekend talks, aimed at inter-Palestinian reconciliation. Egypt is also reportedly linking the reopening of the Rafah border crossing with formation of a new Palestinian unity government, including all Palestinian factions.

Mohammed Nazzal argues that it's "Egypt's right to invite the other Palestinian groups to Cairo for talks but that [Egypt's] claim that Fatah represents all Palestinians is not correct [since] Hamas is in control of Gaza."

Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Salah, who is also trying to reconcile the rival Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah, warned Hamas that Arab countries might "reconsider their pledges to help rebuild Gaza," if the two factions did not reconcile.

Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other Arab countries promised to contribute over $2 billion to help rebuild the Gaza Strip at last week's summit in Kuwait.

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