Hamas says truce unlikely by Thursday

February 5th, 2009 - 3:25 am ICT by IANS  

Cairo, Feb 5 (DPA) As Egypt’s Thursday deadline for negotiating a truce in the Gaza Strip approaches, a Hamas representative said an agreement was unlikely by the end of Wednesday’s negotiations.”There is still a huge gap between Hamas and Israel concerning a truce. Thus, more time is needed,” Mohammed Nizzal, a member of Hamas’ political bureau in Damascus, told DPA.

Egypt is brokering a long-term, sustainable ceasefire between Israel and Hamas to continue the fragile calm in the enclave that went into effect Jan 18 after the end of a 22-day offensive by Israel. Egypt has set Feb 5 as a deadline for Hamas to accept a truce.

Cairo has been trying to get Hamas to agree to a deal which would end Palestinian arms smuggling into Gaza, an Israeli key demand, and reopen the coastal enclave’s border crossing, one of Hamas’ key demands.

Israel continues to seek an open-ended truce and has said that negotiations on the blockade would only follow progress on negotiations on the release of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier captured near Gaza in June 2006.

Hamas has repeatedly rejected those conditions.

Speaking about the Egyptian timeline for a truce, Nizzal told DPA that “the time is not enough to take such a decision”. But he rejected speculation that the delay in a reply from Hamas stemmed from differences between his group and Egyptian mediators about the duration of any negotiated truce.

A Hamas delegation was in Cairo for a few days this week to discuss the truce with Egypt’s Intelligence Chief, Omar Solaiman.

Meanwhile, a security source said Wednesday that Egypt will most probably close its borders to the Gaza Strip Thursday. Egypt had opened the border after the end of the Israeli attacks in order to allow aid shipment to reach the salient.

Israel has put the Gaza Strip under heavy blockade since Hamas took over the densely populated area in June 2007.

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