Barak Ravid
January 16, 2009 - 1:00am

Hamas will not accept Israeli conditions for a cease-fire in Gaza and would continue armed resistance until the offensive ends, Khaled Meshal, the leader of the Palestinian Islamist group, said on Friday.

Speaking at the opening of an emergency meeting on Gaza in Doha, Meshal called on the leaders present to cut all ties with Israel.

However, Hamas is set to send a delegation to Cairo later on Friday to discuss Egyptian efforts to mediate a cease-fire in Gaza, a Hamas official told Al Jazeera television.

His comments contradicted a report published in the al-Sharq al-Awset daily on Friday, which claimed Hamas was prepared to accept a conditional cease-fire with Israel starting on Saturday.

According to the report, Hamas has set five conditions for the cease-fire:

1. The reciprocal truce would begin on Saturday and be followed by the immediate transfer of humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip.

2. The Israel Defense Forces must pull all of its troops out of the coastal territory within the first week of the truce.

3. The flow of trade in and out of the Gaza Strip must be renewed and monitored by observers from Egypt, Europe, and Turkey.

4. The Rafah crossing must be reopened and supervised by Palestinian Authority security forces and international observers, until a Palestinian unity government has been established and can take its place.

5. The truce would be instated for one-year with an option for renewal.

Meanwhile, Syrian President Bashar Assad said Friday that the Arab initiative for peace with Israel is "dead" because of its offensive in the Gaza Strip.

Speaking at the Doha emergency summit, Assad called on the participating Arab countries to sever "all direct and indirect" ties with Israel in protest against its continued operation in the coastal strip.

Earlier Friday, Israeli and Western sources said that Jerusalem has rebuffed some of the conditions initially set forth by Hamas for an Egyptian-proposed truce in the Gaza Strip, including how long it would last and who would manage the border crossings.

Jerusalem has expressed its reservations regarding the Islamist group's terms, despite Cairo's apparent promise to crack down on arms smuggling to Gaza - one of Israel's key demands - and Hamas' willingness to accept the offer.

The Israeli and Western sources said Israel had objected to putting a
time limit on the truce. Hamas proposed a 12-month agreement that could later be extended.

"A time limit on any period of quiet is a mistake," a senior Israeli source said. "We saw that when the previous calm ran out of time, it was just an excuse for some to escalate the violence. An open-ended calm is what is needed."

Another Israeli source said that defense official Amos Gilad, who heads the Defense Ministry's diplomatic-security department, returned from his first day of talks in Egypt on Thursday with a very reassuring report of progress.

Upon his return, Gilad headed straight to Jerusalem to report to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. Gilad was back in Cairo on Friday for further negotiations.

The diplomatic-security cabinet was supposed to meet Friday to vote on the offer, but has decided to put off the debate until Gilad returns to Israel with an additional report.

Meanwhile, Livni headed off to Washington on Friday to sign a deal of understanding with her American counterpart Condoleezza Rice on the joint supervision and treatment of weapons smuggling from Iran to the Gaza Strip.

"Prime Minister Ehud Olmert authorized this evening the trip of Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni to the United States in order to promote an American-Israeli outlined agreement intended to deal with weapons smuggling," Olmert's office said in a statement.

Israeli officials said Livni was tentatively scheduled to arrive in Washington at 10 A.M. (3 P.M. GMT) and would meet with Rice at the State
Department at 11 A.M. (4 P.M. GMT).

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Thursday that he believed a cease-fire could be signed in a few days, but this depends on Israel's leadership.

The Egyptian truce proposal, of which Haaretz obtained a copy Thursday, contains three clauses.

First, Israel and the Palestinians will agree to an immediate, time-limited cease-fire, during which the border crossings will be opened for humanitarian aid and Egypt will lead negotiations on a long-term truce.

Second, the long-term truce must include provisions on both border security and an end to the blockade of Gaza.

Third, Fatah and Hamas should resume reconciliation talks.

Egyptian officials told Haaretz they believe the initial, short-term truce should last a few months, to allow plenty of time for negotiations on the long-term cease-fire.

However, the proposal does not require Israel to withdraw from Gaza during the initial truce, and Hamas has said it will not accept the proposal unless that omission is corrected.

Salah al-Bardawil, who was Hamas' Gazan representative to the talks with Egypt, said his organization demands that Israel completely withdraw within five days of whenever the initial cease-fire takes effect.

Hamas also insists that the agreement include a deadline by which the border crossings must reopen.

Israel, for its part, insists that the crossings not be reopened until the smuggling issue is resolved to its satisfaction. It also wants Hamas to agree to an explicit timetable for concluding a deal on kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit and to be more flexible in what it is demanding in exchange for Shalit.

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke with Olmert by telephone Thursday, for the first time since a well-publicized spat about her vote on last week's Security Council resolution.

Olmert claimed earlier this week that Rice had been planning to vote yes on the resolution, which called for a prompt cease-fire, but he then placed an urgent call to U.S. President George Bush who ordered her to instead abstain.

In response, the State Department said there was not a shred of truth to this claim.

Nevertheless, Olmert's office insisted that Thursday's call went well, with the two agreeing to let bygones be bygones.


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