Israel debates truce as Gaza assault completes third week

January 16th, 2009 - 3:20 pm ICT by IANS  

Gaza City/Tel Aviv, Jan 16 (DPA) Top Israeli diplomats were heading for Washington and once again to Cairo to work out the details of a truce in Gaza, as fighting in the strip continued Friday and the Palestinian death toll topped 1,100.As Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni left Thursday night for the US to sign an agreement on joint intelligence cooperation against weapons smuggling to Gaza, another senior official, Amos Gilad, was returning to Egypt where he had heard Hamas’ position on an Egyptian ceasefire initiative Thursday.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who spent the night in Jerusalem, was also due to travel to the nearby West Bank city of Ramallah for talks with Palestinian caretaker Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Gilad on returning Thursday night headed straight to Jerusalem to brief caretaker Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defence Minister Ehud Barak and Livni on what he had heard in Cairo. He was returning Friday with instructions from the trio.

Only after his return from Cairo was Israel’s final response on the Egyptian initiative expected.

Hamas announced earlier this week that it had accepted the initiative in principle with certain reservations.

The Israeli Ha’aretz daily said it had obtained a copy of the Egyptian initiative and said it detailed three points:

First, Israel and Hamas will agree to an immediate, time-limited cease-fire, during which humanitarian aid is to enter Gaza, and Egypt will lead indirect negotiations on a longer-term truce;

Second, the long-term truce must include guarantees on border security - an Israeli demand - and an end to the economic blockade of Gaza - a Hamas demand;

Third, Hamas and its bitter rival, Abbas’ Fatah party, should resume reconciliation talks that would eventually end the split between the Hamas-run Gaza and the Fatah-run West Bank.

Unconfirmed reports late Thursday suggested a short-term halt to hostilities in Gaza could start within 72 hours. However, some significant differences remain.

The Dubai-based al-Arabiya news channel quoted diplomatic sources as saying that Hamas accepted “a one-year-long renewable ceasefire on the condition that Israeli troops withdraw from the Gaza Strip within five to seven days”.

The stepped-up diplomacy came amid the worst day of fighting in Gaza Thursday with Israeli forces shelling a UN compound, killing one of Hamas’ top three leaders in Gaza, and making the deepest advance into Gaza City yet.

One wing of a hospital was also on fire, and two high rises housing international media outlets were hit.

The fighting continued also Friday with the Israel Air Force attacking another 40 targets overnight and the ground troops continuing to take on militants in Gaza City neighbourhoods, but residents said the morning was relatively quiet compared to Thursday’s fighting.

In the three weeks of Israeli offensive aimed at curbing more than seven years of rocket and mortar attacks at its southern towns by militants from Gaza, the Palestinian toll reached 1,105 killed and more than 5,130 injured as of Friday morning.

Thirteen Israelis, including three civilians, have also been killed since Israel launched the offensive Dec 27.

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