Gilad to Cairo as truce talks collapse

Hamas: Differences remain over opening border crossings; Israel demanding unlimited cease-fire.

gaza cash transfer erez crossing 248.88  (photo credit: AP)
gaza cash transfer erez crossing 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
A Hamas delegation left Cairo on Thursday without an agreement on a long-term truce with Israel, saying differences remained over opening border crossings into the Gaza Strip. In the afternoon, the head of the Defense Ministry's Diplomatic-Security Bureau, Amos Gilad, flew to Cairo to receive an update on the conclusion of the talks with Hamas. Officials said Gilad had initially planned to travel to Egypt next week, but the Egyptians had asked him to move up his trip after the talks with Hamas fell through. Defense officials said Gilad met with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni before departing for Egypt. He was ordered to restate Israel's demands that the cease-fire be unlimited and that the crossings would only be completely opened in exchange for developments in the negotiations for IDF soldier St.-Sgt. Gilad Schalit's release, the officials said. Hamas official Muhammad Nasr, who is part of the negotiating team, said Thursday that Israel was trying to avoid fully reopening Gaza's borders. He said his group was expecting more answers from the Egyptians after their talks with Israel. Nasr said no date had been set for Hamas to return. But an official from the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said later Thursday that the Hamas delegation had left to consult with its leadership about a cease-fire proposal and that "they should be back in a couple of days, maybe Saturday." "We're optimistic, but it's tough; it still needs some more effort," ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki told The Jerusalem Post. "The arrangements of the border crossings are really at the heart of the matter." Zaki confirmed that there were still differences regarding which goods and how much of each Israel would allow through the border crossings. There were also differences regarding the monitoring of Egypt's Rafah crossing with Gaza, he said. Hamas does not reject having a Palestinian Authority presence at the crossing, "but they still want to be included, and they want to have a role" at the Rafah terminal, he said. "We're still working on this issue. It has been in discussion" with Israel, he added. Zaki said Egypt was eager to strike a deal before the launch of its Palestinian reconciliation talks on February 22. Hamas's announcement that its delegation was leaving Egypt without a truce agreement came after official Salah al-Bardawil said Israel and Hamas had drafted an agreement for an 18-month cease-fire. The agreement would open the crossings to the Gaza Strip and lift the blockade by 80 percent, Bardawil was quoted in Thursday's Al-Ahram newspaper as saying. Bardawil said there were still two obstacles concerning approval of the agreement. The first had to do with which goods Israel would allow into the Gaza Strip, versus banned materials which could be used for the manufacture of rockets. He also cited Israel's refusal to have international observers at its border crossings with the Gaza Strip. AP and Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.