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(photo credit: AP [file])
Israeli officials over the weekend rejected Hamas's call for a six-month truce in Gaza as "not serious," while Hamas said it was still awaiting an official response from Israel.
At the same time, however, the ongoing contacts between Jerusalem and Cairo will continue next week, aimed at securing quiet in the South.
Israeli officials told The Jerusalem Post that any cease-fire must contain three elements - the total absence of fire from Gaza, regardless of which Palestinian group takes responsibility; an end to Hamas-orchestrated attacks on Israelis anywhere; and a complete halt to illicit shipments of weapons into the Gaza Strip.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's spokesman Mark Regev explained why Israel rejected the latest Egyptian truce proposals.
"If the calm in the South is to be serious, if it is to be anything more than a mirage, it must contain all these three crucial elements," Regev said, "Without all these elements, it would only be the calm before the storm."
Israel maintains that there are no negotiations, direct or indirect, taking place between Jerusalem and Hamas.
Hamas leaders said that the Egyptian authorities, who have been mediating between Israel and Hamas, had yet to come back with an official response to the truce initiative.
"Hamas has asked the Egyptians for a document containing Israel's commitment to abide by the truce," Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal told reporters in Qatar. "On the basis of this document, Hamas will decide whether to continue with the truce or reject it."
Mashaal said the truce was Egypt's idea and that Hamas would agree to it only if Israel complied with certain conditions. "Hamas did not initiate the period of calm," he said. "It came from the Egyptians." Hamas is also hoping that Egypt would persuade Israel to reopen the Rafah border crossing if Israel fails to accept the truce initiative.
Mashaal warned that failure to reopen the borders would lead to an "explosion" in the Gaza Strip. "Our people will explode in the face of all those responsible for the siege," he said. "We have shown that we can surprise when we want."
Asked if the threat was also directed against Egypt, Mashaal said the Palestinians had no intention of targeting the Egyptians. He also said that Hamas would not agree to a unilateral cease-fire with Israel, stressing that any truce should be mutual.
"Hamas has accepted the Egyptian initiative," a Hamas official in the Gaza Strip said over the weekend. "Now the Egyptians have no excuse to continue the closure of the border crossing. They must go and talk to the Israelis about this issue."
He said Hamas representatives who visited Cairo last week received assurances from the Egyptians that the border crossing would be reopened once Hamas accepted the truce initiative.
"We are waiting for the Egyptians, who are waiting for a response from the Israelis on this matter," he added. "As far as Hamas is concerned, there is no reason why the Rafah border crossing should remain closed."
Taher a-Nunu, spokesman for the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip, said he and his colleagues presented the Egyptians with evidence showing that some Palestinian Authority leaders have been playing a role in keeping the blockade on the Gaza Strip.
"We showed them written documents proving that these officials were responsible for the continued siege against our people," he said. "We demanded that the Egyptians reopen the borders regardless of what the Palestinian Authority says."
The Egyptians have summoned representatives of other Palestinian factions to Cairo this week for consultations on the latest truce initiative. Among those invited are Islamic Jihad, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the Egyptians were hoping to convince all the Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip to join Hamas in accepting the truce with Israel. He added that in the absence of an official response from Israel, Hamas would continue to carry out "resistance attacks." Former deputy defense minister MK Ephraim Sneh (Labor) said his government should not accept a truce with Hamas.
He said anything that prolonged Hamas rule in Gaza, include a cease-fire, went against Israel's interest. "There is a zero-sum game between us and Hamas," Sneh told Israel Radio, adding that he believes Israel would eventually have to try to oust the terrorists by force.
AP contributed to this report