Palestinian factions back calm proposal with Israel
Palestinian factions agreed on Wednesday to a proposal for a truce with Israel that Egyptian mediators will now try to market to the Jewish state, a senior Egyptian official said. The 12 groups meeting in Cairo agreed to the plan, already backed by Hamas and Fatah, for a "comprehensive, simultaneous and reciprocal period of calm to be applied progressively, first in Gaza and then in the West Bank," Egypt's MENA news agency said.
"This is a stage in a plan aimed at creating a situation that will allow for the lifting of the (Israeli) blockade of the Gaza Strip and the end of internal Palestinian divisions," the official was quoted as saying.
A deal for a six-month period of calm had already been accepted by the Hamas.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri, speaking to AFP in Gaza, called the agreement a "good step which confirms that the ball is in Israel's court. "It's up to the occupation to choose between the success of the Egyptian effort, and agree to a mutual period of calm, or the failure of this effort, of which it will bear the consequences."
Abu Zuhri added: "This Palestinian agreement confirms that the problem with the issue of a period of calm is not with the Palestinian side but with the Israeli side which continues its threats and attacks.
"In the light of this announcement we are waiting for an official Israeli response to Cairo to determine our final position on the issue."
MENA said that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak had called Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak to inform him of the talks' outcome and "look at means of easing Israel's blockade of Gaza."
The backing of Islamic Jihad is considered crucial for the deal. Indeed, a spokesman for the group said they would respect a truce but not sign it if it applied only in Gaza Strip. "We will respect what Israel respects but we will not sign a truce to be applied only in the Gaza Strip," Jihad spokesman Daud Shahab told AFP from Gaza.
"If the Palestinian factions agree on a period of calm, we will not be an obstacle but we will not sign. We reject the principle of a calming in Gaza; we are against a political division between Gaza and the West Bank," he said.
"If there are attacks, nobody and no agreement will prevent us from responding," he said.
Other factions at the Cairo talks include the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) as well as the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) and the Popular Struggle Front (PSF).
The senior Egyptian official said that the initial period of calm would "pave the way to open other files such as a deal to swap prisoners with the Israeli side."