Press release from BICOM published with thanks.

Source: http://www.bicom.org.uk

An Israeli delegation led by senior defence official Amos Gilad will travel to Cairo today to take part in talks regarding a ceasefire deal to end the hostilities in Gaza. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s foreign policy adviser Shalom Turgeman will also attend the meetings. The talks will be based on a French-Egyptian proposal and will focus on a security agreement over the Philadelphi Route which borders Gaza and Egypt. Regarding the border issue, Israel would like to see a proper mechanism put in place to halt the weapons smuggling and to monitor entry and exit at the borders. In the latest stage of Israel’s operations in Gaza, it has targeted the smuggling tunnels on the Gaza side of the border. Israel says that 100 tunnels near Rafah were destroyed since the its operation began but believe that 200 still remain.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said yesterday that Israel and the Palestinian Authority had agreed to the French-Egyptian proposal for a ceasefire, but Israel stopped short of endorsing it. Sarkozy’s comments made no mention of Hamas’s stance on the proposal. Deputy Head of Hamas’s Political Bureau Moussa Abu Marzouk said yesterday that his organisation was studying several initiatives to end the violence in Gaza but would not accept any permanent truce with Israel. The details of the ceasefire which still remain ambiguous include the following stages: A mechanism to the smuggling problem; Israel declaring a unilateral ceasefire, with exception to respond to Hamas attacks if fired upon; following a period of quiet, talks will continue regarding the opening of border crossings.

On the diplomatic front, the UN Security Council held a meeting on the Gaza issue yesterday following reports that Hamas would prefer a UN-brokered ceasefire compared with a French, Egyptian, US endorsed proposal. Turkish officials said that they would be willing to send troops to be part of a monitoring force along the Egypt-Gaza border but stopped short of taking full responsibility for the force.

Meanwhile, Iranian envoy Saeed Jalili was meeting with leaders in the region over the past few days including Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to discuss the Gaza crisis.

Meanwhile, US President-elect Barack Obama yesterday vowed immediately to engage in the Middle East situation as soon as he takes office after his inauguration on 20 January. “I am doing everything that we have to do to make sure that the day that I take office we are prepared to engage immediately in trying to deal with the situation there,” Obama said to reporters. “Not only the short-term situation but building a process whereby we can achieve a more lasting peace in the region.”

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