Hamas representatives held a press conference in Cairo Wednesday evening following talks with Egyptian officials, and announced that they have accepted in principle an Egyptian proposal for a cease-fire agreement to end the fighting between the Islamist group and Israel in the Gaza Strip, saying that they hoped that the Egyptian efforts will bring about an end to the aggression against the Palestinians.
The announcement came as Israel Defense Forces ground troops continued fighting Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip as Israel’s offensive against Hamas infrastructure neared the end of its 19th day.
Salah al Bardawil, the Hamas representative in the Palestinian parliament, said that Hamas is working toward achieving the following goals: an end to Israeli aggression in Gaza, the lifting of the siege on Gaza, the reopening of Gaza’s border crossings, the rehabilitation of the Strip and a compensation for Gaza residents.
Al Bardawil hinted that Hamas had generally accepted the terms of the Egyptian proposal but demanded clarifications on several clauses. He said that the Egyptian initiative is the only one Hamas was presented with.
“We’re not talking about amending the proposal, since it was presented by Egyptian President [Hosni] Mubarak, but this is a proposal that includes many phrases, and each side has the right to present its opinion and interpretation of these phrases. We have voiced our stance and our interests within the framework of this general outline and the guidelines anchored in the Egyptian proposal,” al Bardawil said.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmet Aboul Gheit said Monday evening that Hamas had accepted the Egyptian draft that calls for immediate end to aggression on Gaza, the opening of the border crossings and the withdrawal of Israeli forces inside the Strip. He said that Hamas representatives presented their stance to Egyptian intelligence officials, and that they in turn will relay the outcome of their talks to Israel.
Mohammed Nasser, a member of Hamas’ political bureau who was present in the talks, voiced reservations regarding the announcement that the Egyptian proposal was acceptable to Hamas, saying that Hamas’ willingness to cooperate with Egyptian efforts did not mean that they had accepted the proposal. “There are still clauses under discussion and we are still pushing the issue,” he said.
Arab diplomats say Hamas is reluctant to accept a long-term ceasefire agreement right away. Israel, which wants an end to rocket attacks on its towns and guarantees that Hamas cannot smuggle in more weapons through Egypt, said it would not agree to a truce that allowed the Islamists to regroup and rearm.
“Israel seeks a durable quiet that contains a total absence of hostile fire from Gaza into Israel and a working mechanism to prevent Hamas from rearming,” said Mark Regev, a spokesman for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Earlier Wednesday, the Saudi-owned Arabic language Al Arabiya TV reported that under the Egyptian proposal, Hamas had agreed to abide by the 2005 agreement which calls for Palestinian Authority forces to man the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt under the supervision of European observers.
Hamas conditioned the cease-fire agreement with Israel on the immediate withdrawal of the IDF from the Gaza Strip, Al Arabiya reported.
Meanwhile, a Hamas leader said that points of contention remained over the Egyptian proposal.