Report: Israel won't condition Gaza cease-fire on Gilad Shalit's release
Israeli mediator says ending terror is 'immediate aim'; 'Al-Sharq Al-Awsat': Shalit to top agenda after truce.
The outcome of negotiations on a Gaza ceasefire between Hamas and Israel will be known "in the near term," Israeli negotiator Amos Gilad said on Saturday.
Gilad, who visited Cairo this week to discuss Egypt's mediation efforts with Hamas, told Israel Radio that halting rocket fire by Gaza militants and ending arms smuggling into the coastal territory were critical parts of any agreement.
"Stopping terror is an immediate aim," he said. The issue of the release of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was also central but would be dealt with separately.
"We are holding discussions with the Egyptians and we have the reaction, which I will not detail. We will know the results in the near term," Gilad said.
An Egyptian source said that Israel has agreed not to condition a cease-fire with Hamas in the Gaza Strip on the release of abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit, Al-Sharq Al-Awsat reported on Saturday.
According to the London-based Arabic newspaper, the source said that Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman promised Israel that the release of Shalit, who has been held captive since his abduction from the Gaza border in June 2006, would top the agenda following the declaration of a cease-fire.
Gilad met Suleiman earlier this week to discuss the cease-fire initiative.
In an interview with Israel radio on Saturday, Gilad refused to verify or deny the report, but said Shalit remained a key issue in the talks.
Egypt has been working for the last two months to secure a deal between Hamas and Israel that would guarantee calm in the coastal territory.
Israel, which refuses to negotiate directly with Hamas, has been pressing for progress on the Shalit case and an end to Hamas weapons smuggling as conditions for a truce.
Hamas has demanded Israel ease its blockade on Gaza by opening border crossings in return for calm. The group has spurned Western demands to recognize Israel and end violence.
"The Palestinian people agree fundamentally to discuss the issue of calm so that the crossings are reopened and aggression is stopped but [Israel] is refusing to commit to reopen the crossings and end the siege," Sami Abu Zuhri, Hamas spokesman in Gaza, said.
A delegation of Hamas officials from Damascus will arrive in Cairo to hear Israel's position shortly and the Egyptians are also hoping to include leaders from Gaza, a Hamas source said.
Israel decided this week to put off a large-scale invasion of the Gaza Strip in order to give the talks a chance to succeed.