Barak, Livni to meet with Mubarak in Egypt

Report: Talks to focus on cease-fire, Egyptian efforts to prevent arms smuggling into Gaza Strip.

Barak Im gonna kill you! (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Barak Im gonna kill you!
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Defense Minister Ehud Barak will meet Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Tuesday to discuss efforts to work out a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel, officials said Saturday. The talks in the Egyptian resort of Sharm El-Sheik will also focus on Egyptian efforts to prevent arms smuggling into the Gaza Strip, the officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity since the meeting had not yet been officially announced. The talks do not signify that a deal is imminent but that the Egyptian mediation efforts are progressing, the officials said. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni will also meet Mubarak, on Sunday at the resort, her office said. Spokesman Arye Mekel said the meeting would deal with all subjects relevant to the country's relations. Egypt has been trying for weeks to work out a truce. However rocket attacks on southern Israel from Gaza have persisted, along with Israeli land raids and air strikes against squads launching the projectiles. Senior Israeli officials have warned in recent days of a growing danger from Hamas. On Saturday, Public Security Minister Avi Dichter told Israel Radio that Israel must destroy Hamas's arsenal, claiming it was almost on par with that of a sovereign state. In a separate interview, the outgoing air force chief, Maj. Gen. Eliezer Shkedi, said that in a future war, Israel would come under heavy rocket attack, including from Hamas. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is under growing domestic pressure to order a military offensive against Hamas, following two deadly missile strikes and a rocket hit on a crowded mall within a week. The recent warnings further contributed to the Israeli push for an offensive. In Gaza, Abu Obeida, a spokesman for Hamas's military wing, said that Israel is exaggerating Hamas's capacity in order to set the stage for a large-scale operation. However, Abu Obeida also said Hamas is pushing hard to obtain more weapons. Earlier this week, Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi dropped his opposition to a ground offensive in Gaza, security officials said. On Wednesday, during a visit to Israel by US President George W. Bush to mark Israel's 60th anniversary, an Iranian-made Grad rocket from Gaza hit a crowded shopping mall in Ashkelon, 15 kilometers from Gaza, and wounded 14 people, four of them seriously. IDF intelligence chief, Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin, warned this week that Hamas is expanding the range of its missiles and that cities such as Ashdod or Beersheba could soon come under threat. Hamas is obtaining longer-range missiles through smuggling tunnels under the Egypt-Gaza border, and Israel believes Iran is the main supplier. Israel has reportedly conditioned any cease-fire on an Egyptian agreement to stop the arms smuggling. Hamas also produces Kassam rockets in Gaza. Dichter told Israel Radio on Saturday that while 200,000 Israelis are currently threatened by Hamas missiles, that number could grow to half a million soon. Strategic targets, such as the turbines of Ashkelon's power plant and the Ashdod port, are under threat, he said. "We mustn't let Hamas grab Israel by the turbines," he said, portraying Gaza's rulers as a "malignant Iranian tumor." Dichter said Israel's strategic objective is to destroy the Hamas threat, and that Egyptian efforts to negotiate a period of calm on the Gaza-Israel border would at best offer a brief tactical advantage. He said a military campaign against Hamas could go on for years. Failure to defeat Hamas could destabilize the West Bank, he warned.