Gaza cease-fire talksgive glimmer of hope

CAIRO, Egypt — Egypt and Hamas were negotiating a proposal for a 10-day cease-fire in Gaza, officials said Wednesday, as the Palestinian death toll in the war passed 1,000 and smoke from Israeli airstrikes rose over Gaza City's devastated streets.

Egyptian and Palestinian officials said they hoped to seal Hamas' agreement on a temporary halt in fighting, which would be presented to Israel for approval. Key uncertainties remained for a longer-term deal under which Gaza's borders would be open and Israeli troops would withdraw.

The officials provided details of the Egypt-Hamas deal on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks. But Egyptian officials also expressed public optimism that momentum toward a deal was growing.

"We're working with Hamas and we're working with the Israeli side. We hope to reach an outcome soon," Hossam Zaki, a spokesman for Egypt's Foreign Ministry, told the British Broadcasting Corp.

A Hamas spokesman said he also believed an agreement was possible.

"There is good progress in Egypt. We hope that now Egypt will contact Israel and talk about all issues," Ghazi Hamad, a senior Hamas adviser, told the BBC.

Asked if a negotiated settlement could include a deal between Hamas and the rival Palestinian administration, led by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank, Hamad said he was hopeful.

"I am optimistic now because I think there is no other choice for us," he said.

In Jerusalem, a senior Defense Ministry official said Israel was sending a chief envoy to Egypt today to present Israel's stance. The senior official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. Amos Gilad's trip to Egypt, which has been postponed for days, would be a strong signal of progress.

At the same time, Aharon Abromovich, the director of Israel's Foreign Ministry, was traveling to Washington to discuss a potential U.S. role in the cease-fire with diplomats and congressional officials.

Developments

Halt violence, doctors urge: International doctors called for an end to the violence in Gaza, saying hospitals were scenes of "nightmarish havoc" in articles published Wednesday in the British Lancet medical journal. The Lancet cited the Ministry of Health in Gaza as saying that as of Monday, 292 children and 75 women had been killed in the offensive, with 1,497 children and 626 women wounded. It said Gaza City's Al Shifa hospital asked for extra refrigeration equipment before the bodies of patients began decomposing.

Lebanon blocks rocket fire: Lebanese troops found and dismantled several rockets positioned to hit Israel after militants in the south fired three earlier Wednesday. No one claimed responsibility for the rockets, which crashed in an open area in northern Israel.

Venezuela, Bolivia break ties: The two countries broke off diplomatic relations with Israel to protest its military offensive in Gaza. The decisions by the leftist governments of Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales came a week after Venezuela expelled the Israeli ambassador, Shlomo Cohen, and seven embassy staffers.

Gaza cease-fire talksgive glimmer of hope 01/14/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 14, 2009 10:48pm]

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