Islamic Jihad: Cease-fire Agreement Conditioned on Lifting of Gaza Siege

Palestinian factions agree to Cairo proposal; PMO: Real calm requires end to attacks on Israel, illicit arms flow.

The Islamic Jihad is willing to accept an Egyptian-mediated cease-fire in the Gaza Strip only if Israel agrees to end its siege on the coastal territory and reopen border crossings, the organization's deputy secretary-general said Wednesday.

All the Palestinian militant factions, in Egypt for talks on a cease-fire with Israel, agreed on Wednesday to the proposal put forth by Cairo, Egyptian sources told Al-Jazeera and the Egyptian state news agency MENA.

Islamic Jihad deputy leader, Ziad al-Nahla, said following the talks that the groups' willingness to agree to the truce was conditioned on "the removal of the siege on the Palestinian people and the opening of the crossings."

Nahla said that Islamic Jihad was prepared to accept the deal because it would benefit the Palestinian people.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister's office said Wednesday that any real cease-fire must see an end to violent attacks by Palestinians on Israel.

"For quiet to be sustainable and to be real it must contain three essential elements: total absence of hostile fire from Gaza into Israel, an end to terrorist attacks, and the end of illicit arm transfers. If this was to happen we could have quiet tomorrow," said Mark Regev, a spokesman for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

The Palestinian factions - which include Islamic Jihad, the Popular Resistance Committees and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, among others - are responsible for the ongoing Qassam fire from the Gaza Strip into Israel.

According to the report, the factions agreed that the cease-fire would begin in the Gaza Strip and extend to the West Bank at some point in the future.

"All the Palestinian factions have agreed to the Egyptian proposal on a truce with Israel," MENA said, citing an unnamed high-level Egyptian official.

The official said the Egyptian proposal included a "comprehensive, reciprocal and simultaneous truce, implemented in a graduated framework starting in the Gaza Strip and then subsequently moving to the West Bank," MENA added.

"This proposal is a phase of a broader plan that aims to provide an appropriate atmosphere before lifting the blockade and ending the state of Palestinian division," it said.

The agreement was reached after lengthy discussions in Cairo over two days. The head of Egyptian intelligence, Omar Suleiman, mediated the talks.

Anwar Raja of the Syria-based Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General-Command, which was also involved in Wednesday's discussions, said factions agreed to the idea of a truce even though it was surrounded by dangers.

"Now it's clear that all factions agree on the cease-fire regardless of the details," said Raja.

Mohammed al-Baba, a leading member of the Popular Resistance Committees, said that during his meeting with Suleiman, several Palestinian factions pushed for the cease-fire to last less than six months and cover both Gaza and the West Bank.

Despite the differences, al-Bana said the ball is now in Israel's court.

"We have taken a progressive and positive step," added al-Bana, who is also known as Abu Adnan.

Egyptian sources told Haaretz the agreement will be presented to Israel in hopes of securing its cooperation as well.

Dichter: Cease-fire talks constitute legitimization of Hamas

In a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Public Security Minister Avi Dichter the fact that Israel, he says, is cooperating with Egyptian efforts to reach a cease-fire in Gaza.

"The Israeli agreement to the Egyptian process constitutes the legitimization of Hamas," Dicther said. "As long as the Egyptians aren't fulfilling their obligation to prevent weapons smuggling, there's no justification to take part in their talks."

Dichter also said that cabinet ministers are not receiving briefings on the contacts between Israel and Egypt on the matter. "It would be appropriate for the cabinet to hear from the prime minister or from the defense minister precise information on Egyptian demands, if there are any, on Israel in relation to talks with Hamas. Only afterwards will we be able to seriously discuss it," he said.

The public security minister presented to the cabinet figures showing that in the first third of 2008, 900 Qassam rockets were fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip, as opposed to only 1,100 in the entirety of 2007. He also said that since the beginning of 2008, more civilians were killed as a result of terror activity than in all of 2007 - 16, as opposed to 13.

Israel objects to outline of Gaza cease-fire dealIsrael relayed a message this week to Egypt that it objected to the outlines of the cease-fire under discussion for the Gaza Strip, since it might lead to the strengthening of Hamas and the weakening of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Meanwhile, Military Intelligence Chief Amos Yadlin warned at Tuesday's cabinet meeting that Hamas was planning a major terror attack ahead of Independence Day. Although he noted that fewer weapons were now being smuggled into the Gaza Strip from Sinai, he ascribed the reduction to the fact that during the breach in the border with Egypt at Rafah, weapons flooded into the Strip, and demand had therefore fallen.

The message Israel transmitted was given to Hossam Zaki, Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit's bureau chief, who was in Jerusalem on Sunday for meetings with senior officials in the Prime Minister's Office and the Foreign Ministry.

Israeli security sources said Tuesday that the agreement was very fragile. They said that even the more pragmatic officials of the political wing of Hamas in the Gaza Strip are now speaking mainly of a tahadiya (a short-term cessation of hostilities) and less of a hudna (a longer cease-fire). Their main consideration, beyond the lifting of economic sanctions on the Strip, is that Hamas leaders be granted immunity from assassination by Israel.

The London-based Arabic daily Al Hayat reported Tuesday that Zaki said he had studied the Israeli position on the cease-fire talks in a manner that would "assist in determining Egyptian actions at the next stage."

Zaki also told Al Hayat that Israel's recent attack on civilians in Gaza had "created an atmosphere that is difficult for the present efforts in the matter of calm in the region."

Zaki met with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's political advisor Shalom Turjeman, with Foreign Minister Director General Aharon Abramovich, and other senior Foreign Ministry officials. A government official said Zaki had been sent to Jerusalem by Aboul Gheit to present the Egyptian plan for a cease-fire.

During Zaki's meeting with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, they agreed that Livni would meet with Aboul Gheit on Friday in London, at the conference of donor countries to the Palestinian Authority. The meeting was expected to be of a conciliatory nature - the two had not met since their highly publicized confrontation in December 2007 over weapons smuggling to Sinai.

While in Jerusalem, Zaki presented four components of the Egyptian cease-fire plan: a calming of hostilities between Israel and Hamas, lifting the economic blockade of the Gaza Strip by opening the crossings with Israel on a regular schedule, the reopening of the Rafah crossing, and lastly, Egyptian action against weapons smuggling from Sinai to the Strip.

Zaki also told the Israeli officials that Egypt was concerned about a large-scale Israeli military operation to reoccupy Gaza.

The Israeli officials told Zaki that Hamas wanted the cease-fire to play for time. "If a cease-fire is made but the strengthening of Hamas is not dealt with, it will not be a good idea," an Israeli official said. "The outcome would be that the cease-fire will strengthen Hamas and weaken Abbas."

Prime Minister Olmert said in Tuesday's cabinet meeting that "as long as the terror organizations do not stop their attacks against Israeli citizens, we will have to fight to defend ourselves."