Senior defense ministry official holding off on Cairo trip; UN's Ban to arrive in Israel on Thursday.
By HERB KEINON, ALLISON HOFFMAN
Senior Defense Ministry official Amos Gilad will go to Cairo for talks with Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman once the Egyptians have Hamas approval for their cease-fire proposal, Israeli officials said on Tuesday.
Gilad was originally expected to go to Cairo on Monday, but that has been pushed off every day since, and the trip may not now take place until Thursday.
According to Israeli officials, the Egyptians are engaged in intensive negotiations with Hamas, and once they come to fruition, they will have a proposal to present to Gilad, who will then take it back to Jerusalem for the government to discuss.
In the meantime, the official said, the IDF would continue to keep the pressure on Hamas. It was unlikely, he added, that the army would expand the fighting to the center of the urban areas while the negotiations in Cairo were under way.
On Tuesday morning, the Hamas delegation held a new round of talks with Suleiman and Egyptian officials.
Later in the day, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak left on a previously unannounced trip to Riyadh to brief his ally, Saudi King Abdullah, on the efforts to persuade Hamas to accept an immediate cease-fire, Egyptian officials said.
Suleiman accompanied Mubarak on the trip, leaving his aides to hold further talks with Hamas on Tuesday evening.
Egyptian officials said Cairo wanted an immediate and unconditional cease-fire, which would then be followed by Egyptian-mediated talks between Israel and the Palestinians to deal with both the Israeli demand for a mechanism on the Sinai-Gaza border to ensure an end to arms smuggling and Hamas demands to lift the siege of Gaza and open the border crossings.
The officials did not say who would represent the Palestinians.
Israel is opposed to this, concerned that if it were to accept a cease-fire before the details of a border mechanism to stop the arms smuggling is worked out, Hamas would see this as a victory.
Hamas has rejected any international monitors and demands a role in controlling the border crossings, which Egypt and Israel refuse.
One Egyptian official on Tuesday accused Hamas of procrastinating and setting preconditions. "They want to score a political victory, regardless of how long this bloodshed will continue," the official said.
Hamas's deputy leader Moussa Abu Marzouk told Al-Jazeera that the Egyptian proposal is not acceptable as it stands. Hamas has "amendments" for it and if "taken into consideration, it will be a framework for moving toward a solution," he said.
Salah Bardawil, one of the Hamas negotiators in Cairo, told The Associated Press through a text message that the group "will not allow the Israelis to gain any political achievement from this war on Gaza."
Defense Minister Ehud Barak, meanwhile, said Tuesday that Operation Cast Lead would continue, "alongside our monitoring of diplomatic efforts. We heard yesterday, and we respect, the request by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and we are also monitoring the treatment of the Egyptian initiative."
Ban, who has issued calls for both sides to respect the UN Security Council resolution adopted Thursday night, will arrive in Cairo on Wednesday with the full support of the Security Council to engage in diplomatic efforts to reach a cease-fire.
He is scheduled to arrive in Jerusalem on Thursday for talks with President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Barak, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Likud head Binyamin Netanyahu and OC Military Intelligence Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin.
French envoy Jean-Maurice Ripert, who holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council, told reporters in New York on Tuesday that Ban was "very determined" to support Egypt's efforts to negotiate a truce between Israel and Hamas as outlined in the UN resolution.
Both Israel and Hamas have rejected the resolution, which called for an "immediate, durable and fully respected cease-fire."
The British-sponsored resolution passed 14-0, with the US abstaining, after a marathon three-day round of negotiations between Arab ministers and the British, French and Americans' top diplomats.
Arab leaders, who pushed for the resolution, have been increasingly restive in the days since it passed. The Palestinian envoy to the UN, Riyad Mansour, told reporters on Tuesday he had appealed to the president of the General Assembly - Nicaraguan diplomat Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann, who has been highly critical of Israel - for a full plenary vote on the Gaza cease-fire resolution.
A spokesman for d'Escoto did not immediately respond to an e-mail from The Jerusalem Post about whether such a meeting would be scheduled.
Ripert rejected suggestions that the continued fighting in Gaza has shown the Security Council text to be a "piece of paper" - a phrase used by Israeli officials last week - and instead cast the resolution as a necessary step in the peace process.
"Nobody expected the resolution to be respected within two hours," Ripert said.
Israeli officials, meanwhile, were bracing for the possibility that the Security Council would convene again and pass a resolution with much harsher language.
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