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'Israel welcomes Egypt's initiative' - Asharq Alawsat report on Gaza conflict in English

Translated by Marwa Al-A'sar.  See Arabic original here.

Israel welcomes Egypt's initiative, agrees on holding talks in Cairo, but not with Hamas

Olmert tends to agree on the US initiative… Barak for Cairo's positive response… Livni suggests an Israeli pullout from one side

Tel Aviv: Nazir Majli

Israel agreed yesterday to send a delegation to Cairo to discuss the Egyptian initiative of ceasing fire and reaching a new, comprehensive truce agreement. But Israel refused an immediate break in fighting. Israel decided to continue its military operation until concrete terms could be reached, guaranteeing that Hamas would stop launching rockets on southern Israeli towns. Israel demanded that arms trafficking across the Gaza-Egypt border would come to an end.

The Israeli stance came after a prolonged meeting held by the Israeli security cabinet yesterday morning in the presence of military commanders and heads of security bodies.

A high-level political source at Israeli prime minister's office said that while Israel welcomed the Egyptian initiative, it rejected the mutual one set by Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and French president Nicholas Sarkozy. The source noted that the Israeli government preferred the US initiative.

Appreciating Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and his French counterpart Sarkozy, Tel Aviv agreed to hold talks only with Egypt, not Hamas. Israel has been figuring out the possibility of reaching a settlement that realizes the Israeli conditions for a truce.

Israel decided to send a delegation composed of General Amos Gilad, head of defense ministry's political-security branch, on behalf of minister of defense Ehud Barak, and premier Ehud Olmert's political advisor Shalom Tourgeman.

According to Israeli sources, the delegation received instructions to study the efficiency of the Egyptian initiative as to Hamas halting the launch of its rockets against Israel as well as ending the weapons trafficking across the Rafah border crossing.

The sources pointed out that if the delegation reaches positive outcomes, Tel Aviv will agree on ceasing fire and on withdrawing from the Gaza Strip.

Olmert had set with the US Administration a plan to stop the exchange of fire based on the following actions. First, firing any rockets against Israel will break the agreement and free Israel from any commitments (giving Israel the right to resume military operations in response to Hamas' attacks).

Second, the US will be committed to work cooperatively with Egypt and the Palestinian authority to stop weapons trafficking through Sinai. In this respect, the Americans suggested to Israel a number of procedures indicating their understanding of the Israeli demands of ending the smuggling. The measures include: exploding and destroying all tunnels dug across the borders between Egypt and Gaza, raising the number of US forces in the Egyptian side specialized in discovering tunnels, building a wall all through the border and making the Rafah crossing the only gate for the Palestinian to external world, intensifying the intelligence operations inside Sinai to combat the activities of Egyptians cooperating with Hamas in weapons smuggling and putting the Egyptian-Sudanese borders under intense surveillance as they are the basic source of weapons smuggled to Gaza.

The third condition is to put a tough timetable for negotiations over exchanging war prisoners between Hamas and Israel. Based on the timetable, the captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit would be freed in exchange for the release of 450 Palestinian prisoners.