'Open crossings, 1,000 prisoners for Schalit'

Hamas says new Israeli offer made; Egypt said to be pressing for truce deal, fearing Bibi election win.

Gazans carry cooking gas 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Gazans carry cooking gas 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Israel has offered to open the Gaza crossings and free 1,000 prisoners in exchange for captured IDF soldier Gilad Schalit, Ayman Taha, a member of the Hamas team currently holding talks in Cairo was quoted as saying Monday. Taha spoke to the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram after meeting with Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman. An Israeli defense official had said on Sunday that Jerusalem was considering linking the opening of the Gaza crossings with negotiations for Schalit's release. "The operation has created new understandings between us and Hamas," one Israeli official explained. "Hamas knows that if it renews attacks we will not be restrained." Taha said Sunday that Hamas had rejected an Israeli offer for an 18-month truce. He said the offer had been relayed to Hamas through Suleiman and other Egyptian officials. Meanwhile, Asharq Al-Awsat on Monday quoted unnamed Israeli officials as saying that Egypt was pressing Hamas to ease their demands in negotiations with Israel before the upcoming elections, which Cairo predicted Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu would win. According to the London-based pan-Arab daily, the Egyptians believed that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert wanted to end his term with a major agreement that would include Schalit's release, while Netanyahu would adopt a harder line in talks on a Gaza truce. Therefore, according to the officials, Egypt saw the next few weeks of Olmert's term as an opportunity for a preferable agreement that Hamas should not miss. On Sunday, Hamas legislator Mushir al-Masri said that the group was prepared to reach a one-year truce with Israel if the border crossings into Gaza are opened. He said that the Hamas delegation currently holding talks with Egyptian government officials made it clear that the movement would not agree to a long-term or permanent truce. "Hamas has proposed a one-year truce that would be evaluated [by Hamas] when it expires," Masri said. "We are talking about a temporary truce that would be contingent on the reopening of all the border crossings, including the Rafah terminal, and lifting the blockade." A permanent truce would "contradict Hamas's right to pursue the resistance for as long as the occupation exists," he said. However, Masri said the truce issue had nothing to do with Schalit. "The Israeli soldier is not linked in any way to the issue of the truce or the border crossings," he said. "Rather, the case of the soldier is connected to a future prisoner exchange. No one should dream that Schalit will see his family if the border crossings aren't reopened." However, according to Palestinian sources quoted in Asharq al-Awsat, considerable progress has been made toward a deal to free Schalit, which could go through within three weeks if Israel changes its position on freeing prisoners with "blood on their hands."