'If Egypt Can't Ensure Security in Our South, We'll Find Other Ways'

Deputy PM Ramon says Gaza talks give Hamas 'legitimacy' and 'de facto recognition' of its policies.

Barak Ravid
Amos Harel
Avi Issacharoff
Haaretz Correspondents
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Barak Ravid
Amos Harel
Avi Issacharoff
Haaretz Correspondents

Prime Minister Ehud said on Sunday that if Egyptian efforts to mediate a truce with militants in the Gaza Strip fails to yield results, Israel will embark on other directives to ensure that calm returns to the south.

"Israel wants quiet and full security for southern communities, and if that won't come to fruition through Egyptian mediation, it will be brought to fruition through other means," Olmert told ministers at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.

A Hamas official made a similar comment on Sunday, saying that if Israel and Egypt do not arrange to reopen the crossings to the Gaza Strip, the Islamist group would consider its "other options," according to Army Radio.

Vice Premier Haim Ramon on Sunday slammed the government over the truce talks, and said that if the cabinet were to vote on some sort of cease-fire with the organization, he would vote against it.

"It is a serious mistake to hold negotiation with Hamas until we have isolated it from the world," Ramon said. "These negotiations give Hamas legitimacy and a tree to hang on for every state that wants discussion with Hamas."

"An agreement with the group would give de facto recognition to Hamas' policy in Gaza and will bring an end to the Palestinian Authority and its leaders with whom we are conducting negotiations," he added.

Meanwhile, Israeli and Egyptian officials are set to resume negotiations on Sunday regarding Cairo's proposal for a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip.

Major-General (res.) Amos Gilad, who heads the defense establishment's political-security branch, arrived in Egypt on Sunday for talks with Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman.

Despite the efforts, Israel has learned in recent days that the Palestinian factions, including Hamas, have rejected the truce proposals put forth by Jerusalem.

Hamas is prepared to accept Israel's demand that the cease-fire begin first in the Gaza Strip, and then in the West Bank, but opposes accelerating the release of abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit as part of the deal.

Israel wants to link Shalit's release with the opening of the Rafah crossing and implementation of the tahadiyeh, but Hamas insists that these carry separate price tags

A senior Hamas source said last week that the Egyptians have not tried to link the question of Shalit and the cease-fire. The same source said that the Hamas does not believe Israel will foil the tahdiyeh over Shalit.

Hamas political bureau chief, Khaled Meshal, said on Saturday while in Tehran, that, "if the international community does not initiate step toward breaking the [economic] blockade, we'll break it ourselves. We insist the [border] crossings be opened, especially the Rafah crossing."

Israel would agree to opening the crossings for commercial cargo only after the cease-fire has stood the test of time - and apparently only after progress has been made on Shalit's release.

Meanwhile, militants in Gaza fired two Qassam rockets at western Israel on Sunday. There were no reports of injuries or damages in either incident.