Hamas offers to consider fresh Gaza truce with Israel

 

Hamas would consider renewing a lapsed truce with Israel in the Gaza Strip, but wants guarantees the Jewish state will halt incursions and keep border crossings open for supplies of aid and fuel, a spokesman said today.

Gaza's Islamist leaders had initially ruled out extending the six-month-old, Egyptian-brokered truce, which they declared dead last Friday. Palestinian militants stepped up cross-border rocket fire, escalating tensions with Israel.

But spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said Hamas and other factions were prepared to study offers to renew the accord. Signalling a possible breakthrough, another Palestinian official said Israel had agreed to open two Gaza crossings for imports on Wednesday.

Israel's closure of the crossings has increased hardships for the coastal enclave's 1.5 million people, forcing the main power plant to shut down and international aid agencies to temporarily halt food distribution.

Hamas's apparent shift came two days before scheduled talks in Cairo between Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, a top candidate to succeed Ehud Olmert as prime minister in next February's election.

It also followed an agreement between Hamas and the Islamic Jihad militant group to temporarily curb rocket attacks at the urging of the Egyptians. In the last 48 hours, the Israeli army said at least nine rockets and two mortar shells were fired at

Israel, a reduction from the dozens launched over the weekend.

Egyptian officials provided few details about what might be discussed on Thursday. "The Egyptians want to raise the whole question of the truce and to prevent Israel from invading Gaza," one Israeli official said.

Reuters