Cabinet to decide on unilateral ceasefire Saturday evening

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    Israel appeared close to deciding on a unilateral cease-fire deal on Friday that could end Operation Cast Lead about three weeks after it began.

    According to a statement released by the Prime Minister's Office, "Significant progress was made during talks [Israeli officials] held with the Egyptian intelligence chief. Over the weekend the prime minister and the defense minister will discuss the offered draft. Following the discussion, the cabinet for national security will be convened on Saturday evening to decide whether it should be adopted."

    The PMO statement was released shortly after Amos Gilad, the head of the Defense Ministry's Diplomatic-Security Bureau, returned from Cairo and briefed Defense Minister Ehud Barak on the outcome of the discussions. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert' chief diplomatic adviser Shalom Turgeman accompanied Gilad in Egypt.

    A unilateral decision is likely after Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal rejected Israel's conditions for a truce and called on all Arab countries to cut ties with the Jewish state during a summit of Arab leaders in Doha, Qatar. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Syrian President Bashar Assad gave Mashaal their full backing, but significantly, both Egypt and Saudi Arabia boycotted the summit.

    'We reject Israel's truce conditions'
    Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was meanwhile in Washington, signing a "memorandum of understandings" with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that binds Israel and the US in fighting smuggling weapons into Gaza.

    According to Reuters, the main points disputed in the Egyptian proposal as it was articulated on Thursday were the duration of the proposed truce, which Hamas insists on being only a year, and how quickly Israel would complete the withdrawal of its forces from the Gaza Strip and reopen the crossings. The PMO statement on Friday expressed satisfaction with clarifications Gilad received from Cairo on Friday.

    Olmert also does not want any agreement to include Hamas as a direct party because this would de facto legitimize the group. His preference, According to Channel 10, was to conclude a ceasefire "over Hamas's head" regardless of the terror group's position, working with Egypt and the US.

    Livni echoed this position when she said at a joint press conference with Rice following the signing of the MOU that "We do not make agreements with terror but find effective arrangements against it."

    Livni cautioned that a halt to Israel's campaign must be based on enforceable guarantees that the situation on the ground must change and "will not come from a simple call for a ceasefire."

    Notwithstanding the PMO's statement that the cabinet would convene on Saturday evening to discuss the ceasefire draft, the IDF was continuing its operations in the Gaza Strip. Even after a unilateral ceasefire is slated to be decided upon, the military will remain in position in Gaza and will only retreat after a period of calm.

    Cabinet to decide on unilateral ceasefire Saturday evening | Confronting Hamas | Jerusalem Post
     

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