CAIRO (AFP) – A delegation from the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas was in Cairo on Sunday to receive Israel’s response to an Egyptian-mediated ceasefire proposal for the Gaza Strip.
Violence in the impoverished Palestinian territory is clouding peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians which were revived in November but have made little progress since.
The Hamas delegation is to meet Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, who is also in charge of mediation efforts, the official MENA news agency reported.
“The delegation will meet the Egyptian leadership and will hear the Israeli response to the implementation of the truce conditions,” the Hamas political leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniya, told reporters on Saturday.
Haniya reiterated Hamas’s demands for Israel to lift its crippling blockade of Gaza and to halt all military operations in the tiny coastal territory, where Hamas violently seized control a year ago.
Israel refuses to hold direct talks with Hamas which in turn refuses to recognise the Jewish state’s right to exist.
Hamas’s top leader in the Gaza Strip, Mahmud Zahar, said a ceasefire could take effect in less than two weeks.
Israel last week presented conditions for the ceasefire in Cairo, insisting that Gaza militants completely halt attacks, mainly rocket strikes, against southern Israel.
Israel also wants the Egyptian authorities to be more energetic in their efforts to halt weapons smuggling into the Gaza Strip.
Another key condition is that progress be made towards the release of Gilad Shalit, a young army corporal captured by militant groups including Hamas in a deadly cross-border raid on June 25, 2006.
But Zahar said Shalit’s release would not be included in the ceasefire agreement, adding that Hamas could free him under a prisoner exchange deal.