Truce plan could see withdrawal 'in eight days'


An Egyptian plan for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas Islamists could lead to an Israeli troop withdrawal from the Gaza Strip within eight days, a senior French official said today.

Egypt said yesterday it was proposing an immediate truce between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza, to be followed by talks on long-term border arrangements and an end to the Israeli blockade of Gaza.

Israel is holding talks with Egypt and Western powers on the proposal and says it takes the plan "very, very seriously". But Israeli officials also said ministers would discuss a major escalation of the Jewish state's 12-day-old offensive in Gaza.

"Within four to five days, there could be an agreement (between Egypt and Israel) on securing the borders and that could lead to a withdrawal within eight days by the Israeli army," the senior official in French President Nicolas Sarkozy's office told reporters.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak announced his ceasefire proposal at a joint news conference with Mr Sarkozy last night, at the end of the French president's two-day tour of the Middle East aimed at bringing an end to the Gaza offensive.

More than 600 Palestinians have been killed in the fighting.

The official added that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom Mr Sarkozy met in Damascus yesterday, backed Egypt's plan.

"He says he will put pressure on Hamas for it to stop firing rockets at Israel," the official said, referring to the rocket attacks that prompted Israel's Gaza offensive.