'Hamas agrees to Turkish force in Rafah'

'Al Hayat': Group respects Turkey as "Islamic nation;" Hamas envoys resume Cairo talks on Gaza truce.

rafah crossing egypt gaza 248.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
rafah crossing egypt gaza 248.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Hamas is set to announce that it is willing to allow a Turkish force to deploy at Rafah crossing, despite earlier insistence that it would treat any international presence along Gaza's border as an occupying force, according to a report Tuesday in the London-based Arabic daily Al Hayat. Hamas would agree to a Turkish deployment of forces because it "harbors respect to Turkey as an Islamic nation," a Hamas source told the paper. Turkey has made clear that it would be willing to contribute to a "technical" or "observer" mission. However, the details of the mission - where it would be located, what exactly it would do, who would be involved, what the role of the Palestinian Authority would be - were still being formulated. There is some talk about carving out a "neutral zone" along the border where the team would operate. Hamas would only consent to the deployment of Turkish forces in the Strip if all of the crossings into Gaza are opened, Hamas sources told the paper. The group has resisted the idea of international monitors because it wants control of the Gaza border, and Egypt has opposed the presence of foreign forces on its soil as a violation of its sovereignty. Egypt would prefer that Fatah man the border on the Gaza side and does not believe it needs outside help to monitor its own crossing. On Monday, diplomatic sources said that Turkey is playing a key role in the talks because Hamas - due to its tensions with Egypt - currently has more confidence in Turkey than it does in Egypt. According to the sources, in the current talks Turkey is acting as the mediator between Egypt and Hamas, and not between Hamas and Israel. One Israeli source said that Israel's relationship with Turkey has been set back considerably because of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's extremely harsh criticisms of Operation Cast Lead. Meanwhile, Hamas envoys on Tuesday resumed talks in Cairo with Egyptian intelligence officials on an Egyptian truce proposal for Gaza, officials said Tuesday. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, meanwhile, left for Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, for talks with King Abdullah on the conflict. Egyptian officials said Mubarak would brief Abdullah on the Egyptian efforts to convince Hamas to accept an immediate cease-fire with Israel. Mubarak previously unannounced departure followed reports in Egyptian state-owned papers about difficulties in the ongoing talks with Hamas. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks, said Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman was accompanying Mubarak on his trip. Meanwhile, a Hamas official in Syria downplayed rumors of a rift between its members in Gaza and the exiled leadership in Damascus. Mohammad Nazal of the Hamas political bureau, told The Associated Press that such reports were "meant to stir up confusion" over where Hamas stands and were "part of psychological warfare" by Israel. Representing Hamas in talks in Egypt were Salah Bardaweel and Jamal Abu Hashem from Gaza, and Mohammed Nasr from the Damascus-based Political Bureau of the group, Nazal said. Herb Keinon and AP contributed to this report