Israel To Vote Saturday On Gaza Truce

By: By IBRAHIM BARZAK and AMY TEIBEL AP Writers
By: By IBRAHIM BARZAK and AMY TEIBEL AP Writers

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) - Israel's Security Cabinet will vote Saturday night on an Egyptian proposal for a truce to end the 3-week-old offensive against Gaza's Hamas rulers, a senior government official said.

The official said a vote to approve the truce would amount to a
"unilateral" cease-fire, though Israeli forces would only leave Gaza after an official declaration that the fighting was over. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.

"I hope we are entering the endgame and that our goal of sustained and durable quiet in the south is about to be attained," Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said earlier Friday.

The truce would begin a phased process in which Israel stops the assault and gauges the reaction from Hamas militants. Israel would resume the offensive if the militants continue to fire rockets, the government official said.

Under the deal, Egypt would shut down weapons smuggling routes with international help, and discussions on the opening of Gaza's blockaded border crossings would take place at a later date. According to Israeli radio, Cairo will host a truce summit on Sunday with Israeli officials and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expected to attend. Israeli television said Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni would attend.

The Israeli vote was set hours after the U.S. agreed to provide assurances on ending weapons smuggling into Gaza as part of a cease-fire.

Earlier Friday, Hamas' Syrian-based political chief Khaled Mashaal rejected Israeli conditions for a truce and demanded an immediate opening of the besieged territory's borders.

More than 1,100 Palestinians have been killed since the war began on Dec. 27, including 346 children, according to the U.N. and Gaza health officials. The death toll rose by 38 on Friday, including 25 people whose bodies were unearthed from rubble and six who died of wounds from previous days, Gaza health officials said.

Thirteen Israelis have been killed, four by rocket fire, according to the military.

Israel has demanded that militants halt rocket fire and sought international guarantees that Hamas will not be permitted to rearm. In Washington, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Livni signed an agreement Friday intended to assure Israel that Hamas militants will not be able to rearm if it agrees to a cease-fire in Gaza.

At the signing ceremony, Livni described the deal as "a vital complement for a cessation of hostility" in the troubled region.

Rice said she hoped European countries would work out similar bilateral agreements with Israel to "bring into being a durable cease-fire, a cease-fire that can actually hold."

"As you know, there are a number of conditions that need to be obtained if a cease-fire is to be durable. ... And among them is to do something about the weapons smuggling and the potential for resupply of Hamas from other places, including from Iran," she added.

In the Qatari capital of Doha, Mashaal took a tough line and asked a summit of Arab countries to back him by cutting off any ties with Israel.

"We will not accept Israel's conditions for a cease-fire," Mashaal told the summit.

Mauritania and Qatar heeded Mashaal's call, suspending political and economic contacts with Israel over the fighting in Gaza. Mauritania has full diplomatic relations with Israel, while Qatar has a trade office and lower-level political ties.

Israel launched the war against Gaza militants on Dec. 27 to stop the rocket fire that has traumatized southern Israel for years. But the spiraling Palestinian death toll, which includes hundreds of civilians, has drawn international outrage and touched off intense diplomatic activity to end the violence.

Violence was less intense on Friday with Israeli assaults killing seven Palestinians, a lower death toll than that of recent days.

Gaza residents said they heard tanks roll away from their positions in the eastern and southern fringes of the city, leaving clouds of dust in their wake. At least 40 tanks and military vehicles retreated into Israel, but a senior security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the tanks were to redeploy, and were not withdrawing.

The easing of violence gave Palestinian medics the chance to dig through rubble from recent clashes and recover 25 bodies.

Still, aircraft struck about 40 targets before dawn including smuggling tunnels along the Egyptian border, a rocket launcher ready for firing and a mosque that housed a tunnel entrance and was also used to store arms, the military said.

Palestinian medical officials reported an 11-year-old girl was killed in shelling in northern Gaza and witnesses reported an airstrike on a Gaza City mosque as people were headed there for Friday prayers. The Israeli military had no comment.

Militants sent rockets flying at Israel more than 10 times, injuring three people, including one critically, officials said.

In the West Bank, Palestinian medics said Israeli soldiers shot dead a 20-year-old Palestinian during a violent protest against Israel's Gaza Strip offensive.

Witnesses said demonstrators hurled rocks at troops who stopped them from marching into the Israeli-controlled sector of Hebron. The army had no immediate comment.

Intense Israeli military activity in Gaza on Thursday exacted a steep price from Hamas when Interior Minister Said Siam was killed in an airstrike. Siam was the commander of Hamas security forces and was widely feared in Gaza.

A small crowd of mourners buried Siam in Gaza City on Friday. His white-shrouded body was draped in a green Hamas flag and some
of the people who carried it chanted, "Greetings from Hamas!" One
man fired an assault rifle in the area in a traditional salute.

Siam was seen as a main architect of the violent Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip in June 2007, when Hamas fighters expelled forces loyal to Western-backed Palestinian President Abbas. He was the highest Hamas official killed in the offensive.

Hamas leaders went into hiding before the war began and none attended the funeral. But a statement distributed there in the name of Gaza's Hamas prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, said, "This new crime committed by the Zionist war machine will not affect the determination of our people or drive us to raise the flag of surrender."
---
Amy Teibel reported from Tel Aviv, Israel. Associated Press
writers Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations, Matthew Lee in
Washington and Barbara Surk in Doha, Qatar contributed to this
report.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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