Suleiman to present truce to Israel

Officials to 'Post': Egypt will first get OK from Hamas before coming to Israel for PM's response.

Hamas gunman 224 88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Hamas gunman 224 88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Egyptian Intelligence Minister Omar Suleiman is planning a trip to Israel in the next week to present the cease-fire proposal he has brokered with Hamas, senior defense officials told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday. Egyptian efforts to obtain a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas have picked up speed in recent days, according to the officials, and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert needs to decide whether he will agree to a truce with the terrorist group that controls the Gaza Strip. Suleiman planned to bring a proposal to the Hamas leadership in Damascus in the coming days and the assessment in the Israeli defense establishment was that it would be accepted, the officials said. Once that happens, Suleiman plans to come to Israel to receive Olmert's official response. Talks with Egypt over a cease-fire in Gaza started a few months ago and have been spearheaded by Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Gilad, head of the Defense Ministry's Diplomatic-Security Bureau. Defense officials said Hamas was likely to accept the offer since a truce in Gaza would allow the group to rehabilitate its military wing and increase the weapons smuggling into the Strip. Officials said the cease-fire under discussion would include Gaza, and not the West Bank. Egypt, the officials said, was concerned that if quiet was not obtained in Gaza, Hamas would try to blow up the border wall in Rafah as it did on January 23. Israel, the officials said, had yet to decide and was conditioning approval of the offer on an Egyptian commitment to increase efforts to curb the arms smuggling under the Philadelphi Corridor. A senior official in the Prime Minister's Office reiterated Israel's position that it was not holding any negotiations with Hamas - either directly or indirectly. The official said Hamas knew that to bring about a cease-fire it needed to stop the firing of Kassam rockets at Israel from the Gaza Strip, cease terrorist attacks against Israelis, and stop the smuggling of weapons into the Gaza Strip. "We don't need words about a cease-fire, but actions on the ground," the official said. Israel harbored no illusions about Hamas or the nature of its leaders, and saw no indication of any change within the organization, the official added. One senior government source said Israel was skeptical that anything had been worked out between Hamas and Egypt, and that there were sharp divisions within Hamas itself about whether a cease-fire was desirable. According to the source, while Hamas's leadership in Gaza was in favor of a cease-fire, partly because their lives were in danger if the fighting continued, Hamas's leadership in Damascus was interested in seeing the tension in the area continue to rise. The official also said that while Israel obviously wanted to see an end to the Kassam rocket attacks on the western Negev, any agreement that would end the rocket attacks but not deal with ending Hamas's military buildup would be unacceptable. Hamas's buildup, the official indicated, was more of a long-term strategic threat than the firing of Kassams. The official advised caution in judging both Egyptian and Hamas comments about an impending agreement, since Hamas had an interest in appearing as if it wanted a cease-fire, to make Israel look like the intransigent party in the eyes of the world, and Egypt was interested in declaring progress to show everyone that its efforts had borne fruit and it was an invaluable diplomatic broker in the region. The source also warned about becoming overly optimistic amid reports that Suleiman was going to visit Israel soon to report on the deal, saying there have been numerous reports over the last two months about his imminent arrival, but that each time Suleiman's trip was postponed. While some Hamas representatives denied that the movement was close to reaching a deal with Israel, others said that Hamas had accepted an Egyptian plan for a temporary truce. Sami Abu Zuhri, a senior Hamas spokesman in the Gaza Strip, confirmed that the Egyptians had proposed a new deal. He said the group was studying the initiative. Abu Zuhri said Hamas could present its "detailed and final" response to the Egyptian initiative as soon as Thursday. He reiterated Hamas's position that any truce must be "mutual, comprehensive and simultaneous" and include the reopening of the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Sinai. Sources close to Hamas said the Egyptian proposal called for Hamas to end all its attacks on Israel in return for the reopening of the Rafah border crossing and a halt to IDF operations in the Gaza Strip. The sources expressed doubt that Egypt would be able to persuade Jerusalem to accept the deal. "Hamas has agreed in principle to the Egyptian truce proposal," the sources said. "The ball is now in Israel's court." However, other Hamas spokesmen said they were unaware of any new developments regarding a truce with Israel. The sources voiced skepticism regarding Hamas's ability to persuade other groups to honor a cease-fire. Islamic Jihad, whose members are responsible for many of the rocket attacks, said earlier this week that it would not accept any truce that did not include the West Bank.