Crossings to reopen Friday if truce not breached again

Negotiations for Schalit to resume despite cease-fire breach

Defense officials said Wednesday night they planned to open the crossings between Gaza and Israel on Friday if there were no more violations of the cease-fire. At a late-night security assessment in the Defense Ministry on Wednesday, it was decided decided that Israel will keep the Gaza border crossings closed on Thursday, except for special humanitarian cases, in response to Tuesday's Kassam rocket attacks. Indirect negotiations between Israel and Hamas on a prisoner exchange aimed at securing the release of St.-Sgt. Gilad Schalit from Gaza will resume on Thursday, an aide to Defense Minister Ehud Barak said. "Ofer Dekel [the government's point man on the issue] will head out to Egypt on Thursday, and he will continue the process," the aide said. The Egyptians are expected to shuttle between Dekel and Hamas representatives from Gaza, who may be staying at the same hotel. The aide did not indicate how close the two sides were to a deal. Earlier in the day, the Popular Resistance Committees, one of the terrorist groups that participated in the abduction of Schalit on June 25, 2006, warned that Israel's reluctance to release the large number of Palestinian security prisoners demanded by Hamas would result in Schalit remaining in captivity for years to come. "If the Palestinian prisoners are not released, Schalit won't be free in two years either," the group said in a statement, referring to the two-year anniversary of the abduction. Asked to comment on a report in Kuwait's Al-Qabas newspaper, according to which Israel had agreed to refrain from responding to the three Kassam rockets fired by Islamic Jihad at Israel on Tuesday, Barak's aide said the decision to end talks on reopening the Rafah border crossing between Sinai and Gaza was a response to the cease-fire violations. Israel would carefully watch the situation in the Gaza Strip and determine whether the cease-fire was being maintained before going ahead with plans to ease the sanctions on goods and material allowed into the area, and before beginning discussions with the Egyptians about opening the Rafah crossing, a senior diplomatic official said. Under the agreement brokered by the Egyptians last week, Israel was to gradually increase the number of trucks allowed into the Gaza Strip as the cease-fire held, intensive negotiations were to begin on the release of Schalit, and Israel was to begin talks with the Egyptians about normalizing the situation at the Gaza crossings, including Rafah, with an eye to perhaps creating a temporary crossing between Egypt and the Strip at Kerem Shalom. Tuesday's firing of Kassam rockets at the western Negev has scuttled those plans for now. As to when the meetings on Rafah will take place, and when there will be an additional increase in what is allowed into the Gaza Strip, the official said, "It is too early to tell, we have to watch and see in which direction the security calm is headed."