'Result of Gaza truce talks to be known soon'

"We are holding discussions with the Egyptians. We will know the results in the near term," said Israeli official.

'Result of Gaza truce talks to be known soon'

The outcome of negotiations on a Gaza ceasefire between Hamas Islamists and Israel will be known "in the near term", an Israeli official involved in the talks said on Saturday.

Amos Gilad, who visited Cairo this week to discuss Egypt's mediation efforts with Hamas, told Israel Radio that halting rocket fire by Gaza militants and ending arms smuggling into the coastal territory were critical parts of any agreement. 

The issue of the release of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was also central but would be dealt with separately.

"We are holding discussions with the Egyptians and we have the reaction, which I will not detail. We will know the results in the near term," Gilad said.

The London-based Arabic newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, quoting an unnamed Egyptian source, said Egypt's intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, had convinced Israel not to link the release of the soldier to the announcement of a ceasefire.

Suleiman had "promised that the issue would be the first to be discussed after the truce announcement, and Israel and Hamas accepted this," the paper said.

"The Palestinian people agree fundamentally to discuss the issue of calm so that the crossings are reopened and aggression is stopped but (Israel) is refusing to commit to reopen the crossings and end the siege," Sami Abu Zuhri, Hamas spokesman in Gaza, said.

A delegation of Hamas officials from Damascus will arrive in Cairo to hear Israel's position shortly and the Egyptians are also hoping to include leaders from Gaza, a Hamas source said.


"NATIONAL PRIORITY"

Egypt has been trying for months to broker a truce between Israel and Hamas, which seized the Gaza Strip from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's more secular Fatah faction a year ago.

Gilad said in his radio interview that the release of Shalit was a "national priority" immediately following the declaration of a ceasefire.

"The Gilad Shalit issue stands on its own; it is an individual target. We have to free him and bring him home," he said.

Shalit was captured by Gaza militants in a cross-border raid on an Israeli army base two years ago. The militants have demanded that Israel free hundreds of detained Palestinians in exchange for his release.

On Wednesday, Israel said it would support Egyptian efforts to reach a truce in the Gaza Strip, but instructed the army to prepare for possible military action in the coastal territory if mediation failed.

The decision by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's security cabinet to hold off militarily for now followed Hamas's release of a hand-written letter by Shalit.

Gilad said the decision to delay troop action in Gaza allowed his trip to Egypt to go ahead, but that the military was nevertheless preparing to move into Gaza if needed.

Reuters
Last Mod: 15 Haziran 2008, 12:21
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