Abu Marzouk 224 88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Hamas deputy leader Moussa Abu Marzouk said on Thursday that his organization supports an 18-month truce with Israel, though it would not be linked to a prisoner exchange deal to free kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Schalit.
Reuters quoted Abu Marzouk as saying that the Egypt-mediated truce would be announced in the coming two or three days. "It will be in a short period, God willingâ€¦ within two days," he said.
Abu Marzouk, in Cairo for truce talks with Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, told Al-Jazeera that Hamas was waiting for Israel to approve the details of the emerging agreement.
Taher Nunu, another member of the Hamas delegation in Egypt, also said the cease-fire would be officially announced within three days.
"Most of the obstacles preventing us from consolidating an agreement have already been solved," Nunu said, adding that the agreement would ensure an end to the fighting with Israel and the opening of the crossings into Gaza.
Earlier, a senior Egyptian official said "the discussions with Hamas representatives in Cairo were very successful" and an agreement would be signed as early as Thursday night.
The delegation also included Hamas "Foreign Minister" Mahmoud Zahar and Gaza legislator Salah Bardawil, an Egyptian official said.
Hamas would accept an 18-month truce if Israel stopped its "aggression," i.e. attacks, lifted its blockade and opened the Israeli border crossings with the Gaza Strip, the official said earlier Thursday.
Hamas was trying to find out which specific construction and agricultural materials Israel plans to bar from entering the Gaza Strip. Israel is concerned the raw materials will be used to manufacture weapons and bunkers.
In addition, Hamas is interested in securing a written agreement with Israel, while Israel wants an oral agreement.
The delegation "has decided to stay until the Egyptian side gets answers from the Israelis about all their questions and demands," he said.
Hamas also wants to establish a mechanism to observe the implementation of an agreement that would be headed by Egypt and include the participation of other countries, the official said.
Hamas officials have told the Arab media they want to ensure that Israel will keep the crossings open throughout the duration of the truce.
A senior Hamas official in Gaza said on Thursday that he was optimistic that a cease-fire would be achieved regardless of whether Kadima leader Tzipi Livni or Likud head Binyamin Netanyahu led the next government.
"The international community is putting some pressure on both [Israel and Hamas] and the Egyptians are also trying to do their best to make sure that both parties will agree to certain terms of a cease-fire," Ahmed Yousef, Hamas's "deputy foreign minister," told The Jerusalem Post by telephone.
"I don't think that the Israelis will challenge the world community when it comes to opening the crossings and rebuilding Gaza," Yousef said.
But he also said that he did not think that Livni and Netanyahu "have any vision for peace."
"They have an ethnic-cleansing mentality," he said.
On Monday, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said in Paris that a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas could go into effect next week.
Also on Thursday, a Fatah delegation was in Cairo to discuss the proposed truce and Palestinian reconciliation within the framework of the Egyptian cease-fire initiative, Palestinian Authority chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said.
The Fatah delegation was expected to be in Cairo for two or three days, he said.
Hamas and Fatah officials held "a rare face-to-face meeting" in Cairo on Wednesday evening to pave the way for a Palestinian reconciliation summit to be held in Cairo on February 22, the Palestinian Ma'an news agency reported.
Meanwhile, government officials said in Jerusalem on Thursday that efforts to free kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit and reach a long-term cease-fire with Hamas were continuing, even as the Olmert government entered its last days.
One senior official said there was no political vacuum, and that everyone understood that the current government was still in power and continuing to negotiate with the Egyptians.
The official would not say when Amos Gilad, the head of the Defense Ministry's Diplomatic-Security Bureau, would return to Cairo to continue talks with the Egyptians and receive a briefing on the negotiations with Abu Marzouk.
Israeli officials continued to hold out hope that the Schalit issue could be resolved before Olmert ended his term, something Pensioners Minister Rafi Eitan said on Sunday was a distinct possibility.
"Following Operation Cast Lead, the strategic and political situation is now more conducive to getting a deal done, and Israel's assessment is that there is a greater chance now of a deal coming through than in the past," one official said, without elaborating.
The conventional wisdom in Jerusalem is that not only would Olmert like to leave office having successfully concluded a deal for Schalit, but that likely new prime minister Netanyahu would benefit from entering office with this issue behind him. Government officials said that any deal on Schalit reached before a new coalition was formed would have to be approved by the outgoing cabinet, and would also surely be done in consultation with the next prime minister.
Meanwhile, Schalit's father, Noam, met on Thursday with Quartet envoy Tony Blair, and was reported to have said afterward that the Quartet was an important player in the region, that the transition period between governments presented a "window of opportunity," and that it was not clear what would develop after the government changed hands.
Also on Thursday, Israel approved the first exports from the Gaza Strip in more than a year, clearing the transfer of 25,000 flowers for delivery to Europe ahead of Valentine's Day, which falls on Friday.
At the request of the Dutch government, the carnations will enter Israel, where they will be flown to Europe, said Maj. Peter Lerner, spokesman for the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories. He said it did not mark a change in policy.
"It's done on a case-by-case basis and the Dutch government asked us," he said by phone. "I'm sure the Palestinians will ask for more."
Overnight Wednesday, the IAF bombed a Hamas outpost in Khan Yunis, in response to continued rocket and mortar fire on southern Israel.
The air force confirmed a hit on a terrorist target, the IDF Spokesman's Office said.
According to Palestinian sources, IAF helicopters fired two missiles at a Hamas military command center in the southern Gaza town. The sources said the command facility was damaged, but there were no casualties.
The attack came after Gazans fired three mortar shells at the Eshkol region on Wednesday afternoon. The rockets hit open areas, causing no damage or casualties. More than 40 rockets, mortar shells and Grad missiles have been fired at the South since the end of Operation Cast Lead.
Bloomberg and Jpost.com staff contributed to this report.
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