CAIRO (AFP) – A Hamas delegation was to give the Palestinian Islamist movement’s final response to a ceasefire proposal for Gaza to Egyptian mediators on Monday, Egypt’s official MENA news agency reported.
The delegation heard Israel’s response to the Egyptian ceasefire proposal on Sunday via Egypt’s intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, who is also in charge of mediation efforts to break the cycle of violence in the impoverished territory.
“A second session of talks between Egyptian officials and the Hamas delegation will be held on Monday to know the movement’s definitive position, taking into account the Israeli response,” MENA said.
The Hamas delegation, whose members travelled to Cairo from the Gaza Strip and Syria, informed exiled leader Khaled Meshaal in Damascus of their talks’ progress overnight on Sunday, it said.
Violence in Gaza, where Hamas seized control from Palestinian rivals Fatah a year ago, is clouding peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians that were revived in November but have made little progress.
A top Israeli official on Sunday said there was “significant progress” toward a possible truce with Hamas, although it would not include the release of captured soldier Gilad Shalit.
Senior Hamas leader Mahmud Zahar said on Saturday that a ceasefire could take effect in less than two weeks, adding that Hamas would only free Shalit in a prisoner exchange.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday expressed hope that the two sides could reach an agreement, but warned that if Palestinian attacks continued Israel would resort to other means.
Israel last week presented conditions for the ceasefire in Cairo, insisting that Gaza militants completely halt attacks, mainly rocket strikes, against southern Israel.
Hamas wants Israel to lift its crippling blockade of Gaza and to halt all military operations in the tiny coastal territory.
Israel refuses to hold direct talks with Hamas which in turn refuses to recognise the Jewish state’s right to exist.