SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt (Reuters) - Egypt said on Tuesday it was proposing an immediate truce between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza, to be followed by talks on long-term border arrangements and an end to the blockade of Gaza.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak presented the proposal in a brief statement after talks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.
The proposal made no mention of many of the elements which diplomats said were under discussion, such as an international force to prevent the Islamist group Hamas receiving weapons.
But a senior official in Sarkozy’s office said that Egypt had told Israel the two countries could work together to make the border between Egypt and Gaza watertight.
Sarkozy then told Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert: “You have to say that in these conditions you are ready to accept a ceasefire, which means a withdrawal from Gaza, and you have to do it now,” added the official, who asked not to be named.
“Olmert told Sarkozy: ‘If Mubarak does that then I will immediately announce a ceasefire and a withdrawal in principle, but I want to open talks with Egypt on the Philadelphi corridor (along the border between Egypt and Gaza)’,” the official said.
If Olmert makes that announcement, then Sarkozy will make a statement, as president of the U.N. Security Council, asking the council not to discuss any resolutions, he added.
Mubarak did not say what role Hamas would play in the talks he is proposing. Israel and the Europeans who have been active diplomatically do not talk to the Islamist group.
Mubarak said he was offering the proposal to end the bloodshed in Gaza, where Israeli forces have killed more than 600 people in 11 days of attacks, including at least 42 civilians in an attack on one school on Tuesday.
Sarkozy, who has been on a peacemaking mission in the Middle East for the last 36 hours, said: “I am confident that the Israeli authorities’ reaction will make it possible to consider putting an end to put an end to the operation ... in Gaza.”
The Egyptian proposal, as read by Mubarak, contained the following points:
— Israel and the Palestinian factions should accept an immediate ceasefire for a limited period, which would allow safe passages to open for humanitarian aid to Gaza and give Egypt time to continue its efforts for a comprehensive and lasting ceasefire.
— Egypt would invite both Israel and the Palestinian side to an urgent meeting to reach arrangements and guarantees to ensure that the current escalation does not recur and deal with the causes, including protecting the border, reopening the crossing points and lifting the blockade.
— Egypt would again invite the Palestinian Authority and all Palestinian factions to respond to Egyptian efforts to achieve national reconciliation.
At first sight the plan did not appear to meet Israel’s demand for agreement on lasting arrangements before a truce starts.
The United States also said on Tuesday that its priority was that any ceasefire should be durable and indefinite, rather than that it be immediate, as Mubarak proposed.
The Egyptian initiative did meet Hamas’s main condition for a ceasefire — that Israel and Egypt should end the blockade they have imposed on Gaza since Hamas took control of the impoverished coastal strip in June 2007.
But the Islamist group might seek firmer guarantees that the blockade will end completely.
Additional reporting by Francois Murphy; writing by Jonathan Wright; editing by Andrew Roche