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Israel pushes for changes to Hamas truce terms

ISRAEL has rebuffed some of the conditions set by Hamas for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, including how long it will last and who will manage the border crossings, Israeli and Western sources said today.

They said senior Israeli defence official Amos Gilad had flown back to Cairo to present Israel's stance to Egyptian mediators. Israel and the Islamist group Hamas do not negotiate directly.

The Israeli and Western sources, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said Israel had objected to putting a time limit on the truce. Hamas proposed a 12-month agreement that could later be extended.

"A time limit on any period of quiet is a mistake," a senior Israeli source said. "We saw that when the previous calm ran out of time, it was just an excuse for some to escalate the violence. An open-ended calm is what is needed."

Israel launched its offensive a week after Hamas said it would not renew a much abused six-month ceasefire in the enclave. Israel said it attacked to end Hamas rocket fire.

Hamas points out that Israel had acknowledged violence had grown after an Israeli raid in Gaza on Nov. 4, and complained Israel had failed to ease its blockade during the ceasefire.

The sources said Israel has also said Hamas must accept the return of Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas's Palestinian Authority to Gaza's border crossings.

Hamas, which won a parliamentary election in 2006, seized control of the Gaza Strip in June 2007 after routing Abbas's secular Fatah forces, largely limiting the role of the Palestinian Authority to the occupied West Bank.

Hamas and diplomatic sources said Hamas had turned down an Egyptian proposal that Abbas's security forces be stationed at Gaza's border crossing with Egypt. That deployment was spelled out in a U.S.-brokered agreement in 2005, when Israel pulled out its occupying force from Gaza after 38 years.

"It's clear that the basis for any movement on the issues of the crossings will be the 2005 agreement and it's clear Israel's partner in the agreement is the Palestinian Authority," a senior Israeli official said.

A senior Western official described the process as "a real negotiation" that could bog down over who controls Gaza's border crossings.

The Western official said Hamas's refusal to give the Palestinian Authority control of the border crossings could force the sides to consider an international force.

Israel has been cool to the idea of an international force running the crossings. Diplomats said Hamas was open to the deployment of Turkish border monitors.


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