Talks on a long-term cease-fire between Israel and the Islamic militant group Hamas that rules the Gaza Strip have hit a snag.
In a rare statement on the Jewish Sabbath, Israel flatly rejected statements by Hamas that a deal on a long-term Gaza cease-fire is imminent. The Prime Minister's Office said Israel would not accept a truce that did not include the release of captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, held by Hamas for more than two years in Gaza.
For Hamas, the key to the Egyptian-mediated deal is Israel lifting its crippling blockade on Gaza.
Hamas official Ismail Radwan said "an honorable cease-fire would bring an opening of border crossings, lifting the siege, and the reconstruction of Gaza."
The Israeli statement said border crossings would not be opened as long as Corporal Gilad Shalit remains in captivity. But Hamas official Mohammed Nasser said Shalit and the cease-fire are two separate issues.
He said Shalit would be freed at a later stage, if Israel agrees to Hamas's demand to release about 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.
Israel is linking the prisoner swap and cease-fire in a bid to pressure Hamas, which is anxious to lift the blockade and start reconstruction after the devastating Gaza war.
Bridging the gaps could take awhile, so it appears that declarations of an imminent cease-fire were premature.