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Editorial Note: The following news reports are summaries from original sources. They may also include corrections of Arabic names and political terminology. Comments are in parentheses.


Hamas-Israel ceasefire is at hand, source confirms

Date: 11 / 03 / 2008  Time:  10:20
Bethlehem Ma'an

An Egyptian-brokered ceasefire between Hamas and Israel is close at hand, and its benefits can already be felt in the current halt to hostilities in Gaza, a reliable source with knowledge of the behind-the-scenes negotiations told Ma'an on Tuesday.

The source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the success of this ceasefire is based on firm guarantees that will end weeks and months of violence.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also announced an imminent ceasefire between Hamas and Israel, according to which Israel will stop targeting Hamas leaders for assassination in exchange for Hamas stopping the launch of homemade projectiles at Israel.

However, both Hamas and Israel have publicly denied the ceasefire.

The sources said that Hamas has a clear vision for a ceasefire that includes halting Israeli aggression against the Gaza Strip and lifting the crippling blockade, while the Egyptians propose easing the siege as an initial step, rather than completely lifting it immediately.

Easing the siege, according to Ma'an's source, will be reopening the Rafah crossing point in accordance with the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access (AMA). Egypt believes it cannot disregard the treaty, the source said.

Hamas and other Palestinian factions had called for scrapping the AMA, which gives Israel a degree of control at the crossing, in favor of an arrangement that gives Palestinian and Egyptian authorities complete control.

At the current talks in Egypt, Hamas has expressed its consent to have the Rafah crossing to be operated by Presidential Guards loyal to Abbas and European monitors, as called for under the AMA.

A 'package of solutions'

The source added that Egypt proposed a package of solutions that includes talks between Hamas and Fatah aimed at Palestinian national reconciliation, a ceasefire with Israel, and reopening talks on the issue of captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

Negotiations about Shalit had been suspended because, Palestinian officials said, Israel refused to release long term Palestinian prisoners.

However, Egypt's main concern at this stage, the source said, is the ceasefire with Israel.

According to the source, Hamas stipulated that Egypt guarantees protection for Hamas' leaders before ceasefire. They also preferred that the cease fire be under international supervision.

The source also revealed that US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice exerted pressure on Israel to practice self-restraint while Egypt exerted pressure on Hamas for the same purpose. The source also stated that Islamic Jihad and other Palestinian factions did not oppose the proposed ceasefire.

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