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(photo credit: AP)
The intensive diplomatic activity taking place in Cairo is centered on developing an international monitoring force significantly different than anything that now exists in the world, since it will monitor a cease-fire not between two states, but between a state and a non-state actor, Western diplomatic sources said Monday.
According to the sources, Turkey is playing a key role in the talks because Hamas - due to its tensions with Egypt - currently has more confidence in Turkey than it does in Egypt.
Egypt has, to an unprecedented degree, been critical of Hamas and what it has brought upon the Gazan population The sources said that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's foreign policy advisor, Ahmet Davutoglu, was instrumental in convincing Hamas representatives to go to Cairo for the talks. He is reportedly intimately involved in the discussions. Davutoglu was the key go-between in the indirect talks between Israel and Syria that Turkey was mediating last year.
According to the sources, in the current talks Turkey is acting as the mediator between Egypt and Hamas, and not between Hamas and Israel. One Israeli source said that Israel's relationship with Turkey has been set back considerably because of Erdogan's extremely harsh criticisms of Operation Cast Lead.
"Erdogan has removed Turkey from the game," the source said. "We have lost trust in him."
But this loss of Israeli faith in Erdogan has apparently gained him stature in Hamas's eyes. Turkey sees its role, according to Western officials, not to replace Egypt, but to help Egypt deal with Hamas.
Turkey has made clear that it would be willing to contribute men to a "technical" or "observer" mission.
However, the details of the mission - where it would be located, what exactly it would do, who would be involved, what the role of the Palestinian Authority would be - were still being formulated. There is some talk about carving out a "neutral zone" along the border where the team would operate.
Hamas has resisted the idea of international monitors because it wants control of the Gaza border, and Egypt has opposed the presence of foreign forces on its soil as a violation of its sovereignty. Egypt would prefer that Fatah man the border on the Gaza side and does not believe it needs outside help to monitor its own crossing.
Quartet Middle East envoy Tony Blair said Monday during a visit to Cairo that the elements for a cease-fire were in place and expressed hope he would see one "in the coming days." The former British prime minister met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak while in Cairo following meetings with Israel's leaders Sunday.
"It is going to have to be worked on very hard, and it has got to be credible," said Blair about an agreement, which he said must stop supplies of weapons to Gaza and open the crossings to the besieged territory.
France, meanwhile, said European military observers should be sent to Gaza to monitor any eventual cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.
"There need to be European observers," Bernard Kouchner said on Europe-1 Radio, adding that the group could be expanded to include monitors from other regions. He said they should include military observers, "to testify to the maintained cease-fire."
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said during his visit to Israel Sunday that Germany would be willing to send technical experts to assist on the border.
The international mechanism is expected to be high on the agenda when UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon comes to the region on Wednesday. He is expected for talks in Israel on Thursday.
Ban told reporters in New York that he planned to insist in diplomatic meetings with Israeli and Arab leaders this week that last week's Security Council resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza be "respected fully."
"Both sides must stop now the fighting. If you want to negotiate to stop the fighting it will take many more days and more people will die," Ban said. "My message is direct and to the point: Just stop now."
Ban, who will not meet with any Hamas representatives during his trip, called on the movement's leaders to halt its rocket fire in order to achieve peace.
"I urge again that Hamas militants, they must stop. They must look to the future of the Palestinian people," Ban said. "Our message to Hamas is very simple and very clear: stop the rockets, so a cease-fire can take hold."
He added that the resolution was a "binding one, and all member states should comply with this resolution" - an implicit call on Israeli leaders to suspend the military action. Israeli diplomats have objected to the Security Council resolution as one-sided because it binds Israel as a member state but not Hamas, which is not represented at the United Nations.
Ban declined to outline any specific proposals for reaching a cease-fire.
Israel, meanwhile, still yet has to decide for itself the sequence of events if an accord on a mechanism could be agreed upon.
While Defense Minister Ehud Barak has indicated that he wants the cease-fire to be dependent on the establishment of an effective border mechanism, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni maintains that Israel should stop fighting when it reaches its goals, independent on whether a mechanism is established.
In Livni's mind, Israel's deterrence - and not an international mechanism - will be what will keep Hamas from firing missiles in the future. At the same time, she is in favor of an agreement that would establish a mechanism on the border, but doesn't want Israel's decision on when to stop the fighting bound to it.
Olmert, Barak and Livni were expected to discuss the developments taking place in Cairo when they met Monday night, as they have been doing every night since the beginning of the operation 18 days ago. At these meetings they evaluate the military, intelligence and diplomatic activities of the day. The will need to give Defense Minister Amos Gilad instruction on Israel's position regarding the border.
A security cabinet meeting is expected to take place on Wednesday, at which time a decision on whether to move to stage three of the operation - expanding the military action into the urban areas in Gaza - may be discussed.
A Hamas delegation was headed back to Cairo on Monday after discussing the Egyptian cease-fire proposal with the group's exiled leadership in Syria, said Osama Hamdan, a Hamas representative in Lebanon who is close with the group's leaders.
The Egyptians expect an Israeli delegation to return to Cairo sometime after the meeting with Hamas, Egypt's Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki told BBC. Gilad is expected to travel to Cairo either Tuesday or shortly thereafter.
In London, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Egyptian negotiators have indicated to him that Hamas is showing some urgency to strike a cease-fire deal.
Allison Hoffman and AP contributed to this report.