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Israel weighs unilateral halt to Gaza offensive -source - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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File photo of Palestinian Interior Minister Saeed Seyyam in Cairo, October 18, 2006. An Israeli air strike killed Hamas's interior minister, Saeed Seyyam, in the Gaza Strip on Thursday (REUTERS)

File photo of Palestinian Interior Minister Saeed Seyyam in Cairo, October 18, 2006. An Israeli air strike killed Hamas’s interior minister, Saeed Seyyam, in the Gaza Strip on Thursday (REUTERS)

JERUSALEM, (Reuters) – Israeli leaders are leaning towards declaring a unilateral halt to their offensive in the Gaza Strip instead of entering into a formal, Egyptian-brokered ceasefire with Hamas, Israeli political sources said on Friday.

Such a move could deprive Hamas of political gains from a truce deal that would include the easing of Israel’s blockade on the coastal enclave, home to 1.5 million Palestinians.

Israeli officials said Prime Minister Ehud Olmert would convene a meeting of his security cabinet on Saturday night to decide whether to call a unilateral halt to the offensive, which has killed more than 1,100 Palestinians.

Asked on Israel’s Channel 10 television if the government would act unilaterally to halt the fighting, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said: “The security cabinet will convene and that is where a decision will be made.”

Livni has long advocated an informal end to the hostilities. “If Hamas shoots, we will have to respond, and if it shoots after a period of time, we will have to mount another campaign,” Livni told Channel 10. “I have said the end doesn’t have to be in agreement with Hamas but rather in arrangements against Hamas.”

Israeli officials said Egypt had concluded that talks with Hamas were not progressing and an agreement was unlikely. Egyptian officials were not immediately available to comment.

Cairo has proposed that Olmert, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak sign their own agreement as early as Sunday, Western officials said.

It was not immediately clear what an agreement between the three would entail. Israeli officials said Olmert would be prepared to attend if invited.

Western officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a pact between Olmert, Abbas and Mubarak could cover security arrangements for Gaza’s borders. Egypt and Israel want Abbas and his forces to reassert control at key crossings.

Israel and Egypt have been negotiating new security measures along the border between Gaza and Egypt to prevent Hamas from rearming after the conflict.

In Washington on Friday, the United States and Israel signed an agreement to boost information-sharing, technical assistance and the use of various U.S. “assets” to prevent arms from getting to Hamas from air, land or sea.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who is visiting the region, could take part in a signing ceremony in Cairo, Western officials said.

Palestinian officials had no immediate comment.

Fire and smoke billow the al-Aqsa hospital in Gaza City late on January 16, 2009. Hundreds of people, including sick and wounded patients on stretchers and wheelchairs, tried to flee the hospital struck by an Israeli tank shell (AFP)

Fire and smoke billow the al-Aqsa hospital in Gaza City late on January 16, 2009. Hundreds of people, including sick and wounded patients on stretchers and wheelchairs, tried to flee the hospital struck by an Israeli tank shell (AFP)

A Palestinian man holds the national flag during a protest by taxi drivers against the military operation in the Gaza Strip on 16 January 2009 in the West Bank city of Jenin (AFP)

A Palestinian man holds the national flag during a protest by taxi drivers against the military operation in the Gaza Strip on 16 January 2009 in the West Bank city of Jenin (AFP)

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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