Israel expects reply on Gaza truce conditions next week
AFP - Saturday, June 14JERUSALEM (AFP) - - Israel said on Friday it expects a response next week to its conditions for a truce in Hamas-ruled Gaza, where tension is high after fighters bombarded southern Israel in a day of bloodshed.
Among the conditions, Israel is insisting that not only Hamas but also the other militant groups operating in the Palestinian territory halt their rocket and mortar attacks, a defence ministry official told AFP.
Another key condition is that progress be made towards the release of Gilad Shalit, a young army corporal seized by militant groups including Hamas in a deadly cross-border raid two years ago.
Israel also wants the Egyptian authorities to be more energetic in their efforts to halt weapons smuggling into the Gaza Strip.
Amos Gilad, a top aide to Defence Minister Ehud Barak, presented the conditions during talks in Cairo on Thursday with Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman who is mediating the negotiations with Hamas, the Islamist movement that seized control of Gaza last June 15.
Egyptian mediators said they would have a response from Hamas by the middle of next week, the defence official said.
Hamas said on Thursday that any truce must include an end to the crippling Israeli blockade of Gaza and a timetable for reopening crossing points out of the isolated territory.
While Egypt has tried for months to get both sides to halt their fire in and around Gaza, the impoverished Palestinian enclave has remained rocked by violence.
Israel's top security cabinet on Wednesday decided after a marathon five-hour meeting to give Egyptian mediation efforts a chance.
But it also told the military to prepare for a major offensive into the densely-populated territory at short notice.
Senior security officials also expressed concern that Hamas would step up its attacks on southern Israel ahead of a possible truce.
Defence Minister and Labour party chief Ehud Barak claimed on Friday that the government of embattled Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was stalling on a ceasefire.
"This government is incapable of making decisions," the Yediot Aharonot daily's Internet page quoted him as saying at a party meeting in Tel Aviv, adding that he blamed "the primaries ... lurking in the shadows."
Olmert's centrist Kadima party is considering holding primaries amid pressure for snap elections to replace him since he has become dogged by allegations of graft.
Meanwhile, Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the Hamas armed wing, acknowledged on Friday that a massive blast that killed seven of its members and a baby occurred as the militants were preparing for "a Jihad operation."
The explosion wounded another 50 people, levelled a house and damaged at least 10 others.
Hamas initially blamed Thursday's explosion on Israeli forces, and militants fired a barrage of more than 50 rockets and mortar rounds into southern Israel after the blast.
Israel responded by targeting militants, and medics said three Hamas fighters were killed in an air raid. Three more died earlier on Thursday.
At least 505 people, nearly all Palestinians and the majority of them Gaza militants, have been killed since peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian leadership resumed last November, according to an AFP count.