Officials: Gaza truce likely this week

According to deal being worked out, IDF will only open Rafah crossing after several weeks of quiet.

Kassam field cool 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Kassam field cool 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
An Egyptian-brokered cease-fire with Hamas in the Gaza Strip is likely to go into effect by the end of the week, Israeli defense officials said Sunday. The officials said it was not certain Amos Gilad, the head of the Defense Ministry's Diplomatic-Security Bureau, would return to Cairo to finalize the deal, and that a truce could go into effect following a phone call between Tel Aviv and Cairo. On Sunday, Egyptian Intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, the head mediator on the issue, met with a Hamas delegation to discuss new Israeli conditions set by Gilad during his visit there last Thursday. Israel is seeking a multi-stage deal under which Hamas would cease terrorism and the IDF would end its operations in the Gaza Strip. Israel has withdrawn its demand that kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit be released under the cease-fire deal, but has demanded that progress be made in the negotiations for his release before opening the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Sinai. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said at the weekly cabinet meeting that "advancing the release" of Schalit was "an inseparable part of the effort to achieve calm in the South." He did not speak in terms of Schalit being released in return for the security calm. According to the deal being worked out, after several weeks of quiet, the IDF would begin to slowly lift the siege and begin allowing in supplies via the crossings between Israel and the Gaza Strip. At a later stage, if the lull in terrorism continues and progress is made in negotiations for the release of Schalit, Israel and Egypt would allow the reopening of the Rafah crossing. Olmert, at the cabinet meeting, termed a decision on whether to accept the cease-fire proposal "a complicated and complex decision." After weeks of saying that a decision was imminent, the security cabinet met last week and decided to "exhaust" Egyptian efforts to broker a cease-fire, while at the same time continuing preparations for military action if Cairo's efforts don't bear fruit. That decision, Olmert said, "precisely defines the government of Israel's position regarding the cessation of Gaza Strip-based terrorism, and I very much hope that this decision will indeed lead to a halt to such terrorism in accordance with the criteria that we have set. If it is possible to halt it this way, all the better. If, to our regret, terrorism is not halted this way, then the government of Israel will know how to use other means as well." Olmert again termed as intolerable the Kassam rockets, suicide attacks, infiltrations and shootings emanating from the Gaza Strip. "The government of Israel has reiterated that we must bring about a situation in which we uphold the most fundamental obligation of all governments toward their citizens: a response to their security problems; a halt to the daily threats that disrupt the lives of the many residents who live in that area," he said.