June 17, 2008 / 12:25 PM / 11 years ago

Truce to bring gradual relief to Gaza: officials

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - An Egyptian-mediated truce that appears likely between Israel and Hamas will begin with only a gradual and partial easing of an Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip, officials said on Tuesday.

“If Hamas keeps the ceasefire, we can gradually deliver more goods and supplies,” an Israeli official said.

But he said any commitment to a particular level of supplies into the Gaza Strip would be kept “vague on purpose”.

A Palestinian official familiar with Egypt’s efforts to broker a truce said a six-month agreement would be announced within a few days. Hamas said on Monday a deal was within sight.

Israel tightened restrictions at its border crossings with the Gaza Strip after Hamas Islamists seized control of the territory in fighting a year ago against the Fatah faction of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

In pursuing a deal that would end rocket and mortar bomb strikes against southern Israel and Israeli raids in the Gaza Strip, Hamas has sought a reopening of crossings, including at the southern Rafah frontier with Egypt.

The Israeli official said Rafah could reopen only if there was “significant progress” towards the release of a captured Israeli soldier. Israel controls access to the border terminal by European monitors who oversee its operation

“No shooting won’t be enough to reopen Rafah. Progress on Gilad Shalit is required,” he said, referring to the soldier held by Gaza militants since 2006.

SIX POINTS

A Palestinian source familiar with the ceasefire negotiations cited what he said were six points in the burgeoning agreement:

— Egypt declares a starting time for the truce.

— Israel reopens the Karni and Sufa commercial crossings into the Gaza Strip three days later, with the flow of goods set at 30 percent of the levels before Hamas took over the territory.

— Hamas guarantees that all Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip abide by the ceasefire.

— Ten days after the truce begins, Israel removes limitations on the flow of goods through Karni and Sufa, although some restrictions on chemicals that could be used for explosives would remain in place.

— Hamas and Fatah reach an arrangement on administering the Rafah crossing.

— Talks on Rafah and negotiations to secure Shalit’s release, in a prisoner swap with Hamas, will be held in parallel.

“No deal will be formally signed. It will be an informal agreement between Israel, Egypt and Hamas,” an Israeli defense official said.

“We expect there to be serious progress on the matter of Shalit within days of the agreement ... meaning accelerated shuttle talks and a serious discussion here in Israel about who we are willing to release and when,” the official added.

Israel, the official said, was “committed to easing the humanitarian situation” in the Gaza Strip.

“That means increasing the quantity and range of goods allowed through the crossings, and expanding the operating hours. This will done gradually, however, and subject to our security concerns and needs,” the official said.

Even as a ceasefire deal appeared to be within sight, other Israeli officials noted that Israeli intelligence believed that a truce would be fragile and shortlived.

But by agreeing to a ceasefire, one of the Israeli officials said, Israel would be in a better diplomatic position should it have to take “other means later”, a reference to broader military action in the Gaza Strip.

Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza and Dan Williams in Jerusalem, Writing by Jeffrey Heller, Editing by Keith Weir

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