Official: Israel prepared to honor truce in Gaza

Hamas, Islamic Jihad say Egypt relayed offer during Rafah meeting, urged them to stop arms smuggling.

Tunnel Rafah 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
Tunnel Rafah 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Egyptian authorities summoned Hamas and Islamic Jihad officials to an urgent meeting on Saturday and warned them against continuing to smuggle weapons through tunnels into the Gaza Strip, sources close to the Palestinian groups said. The Egyptians, the sources added, also relayed a message to the two groups that Israel was prepared to honor a truce in the Gaza Strip. Israel's position has been, as consistently articulated by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, that if they stop shooting, Israel will stop shooting. The sources told The Jerusalem Post that senior Egyptian security officials reprimanded the Hamas and Islamic Jihad officials for continuing the smuggling. They said the Egyptians threatened to take "severe measures" against any individual or group that posed a threat to Cairo's national security. The Egyptians also protested against statements made by Hamas officials to the effect that the Egyptian authorities had blown up a number of tunnels while smugglers were inside them. The most recent incident occurred on Friday, when a 29-year-old Egyptian man was killed and four Palestinians were critically wounded inside a tunnel along the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, The Associated Press reported. The tunnel had been shut down several days earlier by Egyptian security officials, and the diggers had returned to try to reopen it. The Egyptians reported that the tunnel had collapsed while the five men were inside. A Hamas official in the Gaza Strip claimed the Egyptians had deliberately detonated explosives to destroy the tunnel. The Egyptians also protested remarks by top Hamas official Said Siam, who said last week that dozens of Hamas men were being brutally tortured in Egyptian prisons. According to the sources, the Egyptian officials told the Hamas and Islamic Jihad representatives that all the detainees had entered Egypt illegally and were carrying explosives and other types of weapons. The Egyptians reportedly turned down Hamas's request for the immediate and unconditional release of the detainees, whose number is estimated at more than 50. The Hamas delegation was headed by Jamal Hashem, a senior political figure in the Islamist movement, while the Islamic Jihad delegation was headed by Khaled al-Batsh, one of the group's leaders in the Gaza Strip. Ayman Taha, a spokesman for Hamas, said the meeting focused on reopening the Rafah border Gaza-Sinai crossing under new arrangements. He added that the talks also dealt with Egypt's continuing efforts to mediate a truce between the Palestinian groups and Israel. A spokesman for Olmert, relating to reports that a deal was in the works whereby both Fatah and Hamas officials would be stationed at the Rafah crossing, alongside European Union monitors, said Israel could not agree with a situation "where a terrorist organization would have a role on the border." The Egyptians briefed the Palestinians on the latest developments surrounding the truce proposal. According to a Hamas official, the Egyptians delivered a message to the two groups to the effect that Israel would halt its military operations in the Gaza Strip if an effort was made to stop the rocket attacks against Israeli towns and cities. Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said his government would study the Israeli "proposal." He reiterated Hamas's position regarding a truce with Israel, saying it should be "comprehensive [i.e., also cover the West Bank], mutual and simultaneous." Haniyeh repeated charges that the Egyptian authorities had tortured Hamas detainees. "The Palestinians are saddened by the behavior of the Egyptian authorities," he said. "Apparently there are some parties [in Egypt] who are trying to harm our relations with the Egyptians." Herb Keinon contributed to this report