Israel to weigh US security plan already rejected by Hamas

Kassam hits Sderot home • Egypt: Time not right to discuss Arab initiative

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will convene top security officials this week to discuss a US plan that includes a time line for steps designed to ease Palestinian movement and get the Palestinians to assert greater security control in Gaza, even though Hamas head Khaled Mashaal rejected the plan on Friday. "I officially declare Hamas's rejection of this document or any American, European, Israeli or even Arab project that diminishes the Palestinian cause like this," Mashaal said in Damascus. "It is a formula of lifting the roadblocks in return for halting the resistance." Olmert will hold a meeting this week with representatives of the IDF, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), National Security Council and the Foreign Ministry to discuss the plan, which is to a large extent an updated version of the Agreement on Movement and Access hammered out amid great fanfare in November 2005 by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, but never fully implemented. The new US document was recently given to Israel and the Palestinians, but Israeli officials said that they were not "blindsided" by the document, and were kept abreast of its preparation. The document calls on Israel to remove many West Bank roadblocks, improve operations at Gaza's crossings and arrange for a truck convoy between the West Bank and Gaza. Israel is also urged to allow weapons and equipment to reach security forces loyal to PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. The Palestinians are asked to halt rocket fire from Gaza and prevent weapons smuggling into Gaza. Israeli government officials said that some of the elements of the plan, such as improvements at the Karni and Rafah crossings, were in the process of implementation, and that other elements could not be addressed at this time "because of security problems." The problematic elements are believed to be the removal of some of the roadblocks, the Gaza-West Bank link and allowing a replenishment of arms to Abbas's security forces. The officials downplayed the significance that some attributed to the document because of its concrete dates for various measures' implementation, saying that the original Agreement on Movement and Access also included benchmark dates that simply came and went. "I wouldn't make too much of the fact that there are dates in the document," the official said. Nevertheless, the document is expected to figure prominently in discussions Rice will have with both Israeli and Palestinians officials when she comes back to the country, a visit expected sometime in mid-May. Rice, meanwhile, huddled in Cairo on Friday with representatives of the Quartet - the EU, Russia and the UN - and a number of Arab foreign ministers and discussed the Saudi-backed Arab peace initiative. The Arab League last month picked Egypt and Jordan to approach Israel about the initiative. "It was a very good meeting and there has been a very good exchange of ideas," Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said after the closed-door meeting that followed two days of talks on the situation in Iraq. But when asked when the Egyptian and Jordanian team would go to Jerusalem, he said - in a reference to the political turmoil caused in Israel as a result of the Winograd Report on the Second Lebanon War - "Do you think that the Israelis are in a position to receive anybody? Of course not." Aboul Gheit indicated that a decision on approaching Israel would likely wait until after the next Quartet meeting, expected after Rice's return visit here. EU external affairs commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner, who took part in the meeting, also said it was a difficult time to deal with Jerusalem. "It's clear they are momentarily in a crisis," she said. "This [the Winograd Report] will certainly not help, but Israelis are a very democratic country and it has its own institutions to get out of the crisis, and they will decide whether the prime minister stays or whether there is any change." "We do hope that not a lot of time is lost," she said. Even as there was talk of diplomatic steps, the violence continued, as the Islamic Jihad fired five Kassam rockets into the western Negev - one of which scored a direct hit on a home in Sderot - and IDF troops and border policemen killed four gunmen in separate weekend operations in the West Bank and along the Israeli-Egyptian border. Near Jenin, undercover border policemen in pursuit of fugitive terror suspects shot and killed three Islamic Jihad members on Friday. None of the border policemen were wounded, although one of their vehicles was damaged by gunshots. The police also found and confiscated two M-16 rifles. The exchange of fire began after the police entered the village of Silat al-Hartiya on a routine arrest operation and encountered resistance. In a separate incident, IDF troops shot and killed an armed man who tried to infiltrate into Israel near Mount Sagi along the Israeli-Egyptian border. Shortly after the incident near Jenin, Islamic Jihad operatives fired two Kassams into Israel. Saturday another three rockets, as well as a mortar shell, were fired. Islamic Jihad took responsibility for the rocket attacks and said they were a retaliation for the IDF operation in Jenin. Mashaal meanwhile vowed to continue to fire rockets at Israel. "Resistance is our choice," he said at a rally at the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee near Damascus. "We will not live in illusions. Israel is not thinking of peace nor considering a settlement, and it is bracing itself for aggression." "We in Hamas are also preparing ourselves for battle, and we expect hot months," he said, while also urging all Palestinians to prepare themselves for battle. Yaakov Katz, Khaled Abu Toameh and AP contributed to this report.