Hamas leader says cease-fire with Israel must include West Bank
Israel keeping low profile on Egyptian-mediated truce; Palestinian FM says Gaza truce could end embargo.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh on Wednesday said that a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas must include the West Bank as well as Gaza, in addition to hinting that the Palestinian militant group would respond positively to an Egyptian-brokered truce proposal.
According to Haniyeh, when a delegation of senior Hamas officials visits Cairo on Thursday, "the ball will be in Israel's court."
Meanwhile, Israel is refraining at this stage from making public statements on the Egyptian mediation effort to secure a cease-fire with Hamas.
Hamas has said it will announce its answer to the plan on Thursday.
Reports in the Arab press in recent days have suggested that Cairo is aiming this time for a long-term cessation of hostilities.
Haniyeh's comments contradicted statements made by Hamas sources Tuesday that the new Egyptian proposal envisions a cease-fire for several months in Gaza extended, if successful, to the West Bank. That idea could be acceptable to Israel as well. But Israeli military and government sources doubt that a long-term cease-fire can be reached in the near future.
The move for a truce in Gaza alone would mark a significant concession by Hamas in dropping a demand that the agreement immediately include the West Bank as well, as Egyptian mediators try to halt the fighting between Palestinian militants and the Israel Defense Forces in Gaza and southern Israel.
In any event, the sides will not sign a binding document because Hamas does not recognize Israel, and Israel refuses direct negotiations. The intention apparently is to have Egypt make a declaration on the spirit of the understandings, and have both sides accept them independently.
Israel has repeatedly said it will not negotiate with Hamas, a group that has carried out numerous suicide bombings and remains committed to Israel's destruction. A government spokesman said Tuesday that Israel would keep up its military pressure on Hamas as long as the group threatens Israeli civilians.
Foreign Affairs Minister of the Palestinian National Authority Riyad al-Malki on Wednesday said a Gaza Strip truce is very close and would lead to an end to the embargo placed on the Gaza Strip by Israel.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday said that talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority are ongoing and will be expanded to include the subject of Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon.
"When we sign an agreement [with Israel] not a single Palestinian refugee should remain in Lebanon," Abbas told reporters on board a flight to Washington, where he will meet with U.S. President George W. Bush this week.