Hamas official: Ceasefire draft reached

Says 18-month deal to include opening of crossings; second official tells Post obstacles remain.

hamas supporters rally 248 88 ap (photo credit: AP)
hamas supporters rally 248 88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
Israel and Hamas have drafted an agreement for an 18-month cease-fire between them, Hamas official Salah al-Bardawil said in comments published Thursday morning. Al-Bardawil told state-run Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram that the deal would include the opening of the Gaza crossings for 80 percent of goods. Bardawil said that several issues remained unresolved, among them the type of goods to be allowed through the crossings, and Israel's refusal to allow an international presence at the crossings. On Wednesday a senior Hamas official told The Jerusalem Post that "obstacles" still remain that are blocking a cease-fire deal. The Hamas official, Ahmed Yousef, said certain issues still needed clarification, such as whether a cease-fire agreement would last one year or 18 months and how much raw material and goods Israel would agree to allow in through the border crossings with the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. "There is still some ambiguity regarding certain issues," Yousef, Hamas deputy foreign minister and the former political adviser to Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, said from the office of an Islamic organization in Gaza City. The foreign ministry building that used to house his office was destroyed during the first week of Operation Cast Lead. "Things don't sound like they will be solved in one or two days. It needs more [time] than just that," he said. Yousef said earlier in the week that he believed it was likely that an agreement would be in place by Thursday. But on Wednesday, he said he hoped that a cease-fire agreement would be achieved before the Israeli elections on February 10. "They keep saying that the devil is in the details," he said. "When they brought the details, they saw many devils." Yousef said that Palestinians need clarity regarding permanently opening all of the border crossings. "This is the only way life can go back to normal," he said. In addition, Hamas needed additional time to consult with other Palestinian factions, such as Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, "to make sure they will achieve a consensus regarding the cease-fire." Consensus was needed to ensure that everyone abided by the terms of any new agreement, he said. Until now, Hamas has not signaled a willingness to stop the smuggling of weapons inside the Gaza Strip, an important requirement for Israel. But an Egyptian official was more optimistic than Yousef on Wednesday and said Egypt, which is brokering the negotiations, was working hard to achieve a cease-fire agreement as soon as possible. "We got a positive response from both sides," the official said. "We expect to reach an agreement on a cease-fire within a few days." The official added: "There are some details which need more negotiation but they are small details," he said, declining to elaborate. Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Wednesday that Israel would likely accept a cease-fire arrangement with Hamas if the terror group accepted the conditions stipulated by Egypt. "We are in touch with the Egyptians and if the Egyptians have in their hands the ability to let us know about a type of arrangement that they think they can announce, then we will accept it," Barak said. "We have said that if there is quiet, then there will be quiet and if there will not be quiet then we will be ready to take action." Israel was connecting the negotiations for the release of Gilad Schalit to the talks in Cairo and would likely only fully open the crossings into Gaza after concluding that the negotiations for the soldier's release were on a "fast track," defense officials said. Israel is also opposed to a cease-fire with a time limit, and has told the Egyptians that if attacked, it will respond with military force. Regarding reconstruction of the Gaza Strip, Yousef said that Hamas believed that the process should be monitored and audited by the Arab League and the Islamic Conference Organization. "We don't need anyone to accuse the Palestinians of corruption," he said. Some of the money for the rebuilding of Gaza would be given directly to Hamas, while some would be given to the Palestinian Authority, to UNRWA and to European organizations or companies, he said. When asked how parties would be able to donate to Hamas directly due to Israeli sanctions, he responded: "It can enter like the goods enter. If there are no crossings opened, the money will find its way. If people succeed in smuggling Grads... they won't find a way to smuggle Euros and dollars?" But Yousef later said that most of the donations to rebuild Gaza would be donated through the Strip's "banking system." Yousef also urged America's new Middle East envoy George Mitchell to talk to Hamas officials "if they are to achieve a peaceful settlement to the conflict." He said he felt the Obama administration was serious in finding a way to talk to Hamas. "They understand that we are an active player in this game, and they are interested, actually, in achieving peace, security and stability in the region," he said. Yosef said Hamas had yet to meet with US officials and declined to mention whether there had been any contacts with them. Concerning the issue of Palestinian reconciliation, Yosef said that Hamas leaders want Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to release hundreds of its prisoners from PA jails and to stop intelligence cooperation with Israel. "You are collaborating with the enemy," he said. "This hurts our trust in one another." Abbas said Wednesday that he remained committed to a reconciliation with Hamas and insisted he would not allow the Palestinian people to remain divided. "Our doors are still open," to a unity government with Hamas," he said. He also insisted Israel stop undermining his government and be held accountable for its actions during the war in Gaza. Abbas was speaking to lawmakers at the European Parliament on Wednesday. He is on a European tour to drum up support for his government and the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip. AP contributed to this report.