Barak: It is too early to declare calm in Gaza
Egypt: Israel-Hamas truce to begin Thurs. morning; Hamas: 2nd phase of cease-fire to focus on Shalit.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Tuesday cautioned that it was too early to announce that an Egyptian-brokered truce between Israel and Gaza militant groups had been achieved.
"This evening, the possibility of reaching a calm is being examined. It is still early to declare it, and it is difficult to determine how long it will last," Barak said, speaking during a conference at Beit Yehoshua.
The defense minister added that "the test will be in its implementation, but nevertheless Nevertheless, it is important to make all possible efforts to take advantage of the possibility of calm and to promote the return of peace to Gaza area communities like Ashkelon and Sderot, and to make all possible efforts to take advantage of the chance to renew negotiations over the release of Gilad Shalit."
Barak's comments came after Egypt's state-owned news agency confirmed earlier in the day that the Islamic group Hamas and Israel have agreed on a truce which is to begin on Thursday.
The MENA agency cited an unnamed high-level Egyptian official as saying that both sides have agreed on the first phase of an agreement to end the violence in the coastal strip and in Israel's South.
The announcement came just hours before six Islamic Jihad militants were killed in a series of Israel Air Force attacks in the southern Gaza Strip.
According to the Egyptian news agency, the first phase of the truce is a mutual and simultaneous calm in the Gaza Strip starting at 6 a.m. Thursday.
"Egypt hopes that the two sides will exert all efforts to bring the calm to a success," the agency quoted the official as saying.
Israeli officials declined to confirm a deal, but said Israel's negotiator Amos Gilad had rushed to Cairo and that they were cautiously optimistic. Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev also would not confirm or deny a deal.
Earlier Thursday, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said Egypt would soon declare the deal unless unexpected events were to occur. "We are close to declaring an agreement on the calm, barring unforeseen developments," he said.
Another Hamas official said the two-phase deal could start as soon as Thursday and would begin with a three-day cessation of hostilities.
The official said following the trial three days, Israel would open a border crossing with Gaza to let in raw materials banned under a months-old Israeli blockade.
He added that the second phase would focus on Hamas' returning Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit, who was abducted by militants from the group two years ago in a cross-border raid. In exchange, Israel would reopen Gaza's main gateway, the Rafah crossing with Egypt.
He spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal has not been finalized.
An Israeli official confirmed that the flow of humanitarian aids would resume if Hamas adhered to its end of the truce deal.
"If Hamas keeps the cease-fire, we can gradually deliver more goods and supplies," an Israeli official said, but added that any commitment to a particular level of supplies into Gaza would be kept "vague on purpose."
The Israeli official said Rafah could reopen only if there was "significant progress" toward Shalit's release. Israel controls access to the border terminal by European monitors who oversee its operation
"No shooting won't be enough to reopen Rafah. Progress on Gilad Shalit is required," he said.
As of Monday, Israel and Egypt had yet to finalize two issues: Defining the connection between the tahadiyeh and a deal for the release of Shalit and determining the degree of Egypt's commitment to countering arms smuggling from Sinai into Gaza.