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Israeli leaders to vote on cease-fire

JERUSALEM — Israeli leaders said they would vote today on an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire that would bring to an end their three-week-old assault against Hamas, the armed Islamist movement that controls the Gaza Strip.

As Israel faced harsh censure from some of its friends in the Middle East, including Turkey and Qatar, an Israeli government spokesman said the military operation was "in its final act," although other officials cautioned that the proposed truce was still fragile.

Israel sent diplomats to Cairo and Washington on Friday to negotiate final details of a multifaceted plan that would stop the war largely on Israel's terms. "There is optimism and things are moving favorably," said a senior Israeli official, speaking to the Washington Post on condition of anonymity because talks were continuing.

Earlier Friday, exiled Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal cast doubt on whether the movement would go along. "We will not accept Israel's conditions for a cease-fire," he said during a summit of Arab leaders in Qatar.

Israeli officials have insisted that Hamas commit to a cease-fire that would endure for at least one year. Israel has also sought assurances from Egypt, the United States and European countries that they will work together to prevent Hamas from re-arming and continuing to fire rockets into southern Israel.

More than 1,100 Palestinians have been killed since Israel began bombing the narrow coastal strip Dec. 27. Nine Israeli soldiers have died.

In Washington, Israel secured one of its objectives Friday by signing an agreement with the United States designed to help stop the smuggling of weapons into Gaza. Under the pact, signed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, the United States pledges to help track and thwart smugglers from supplying Hamas with rockets and other munitions.

Rice said the agreement would be part of a broader international effort — including similar arrangements with European countries — to stem the flow of arms into Gaza. A key element, she said, "is to do something about the weapons smuggling and the potential for resupply of Hamas from other places, including from Iran."

Smugglers have eluded the blockade by digging tunnels under Gaza's southern border with Egypt.

Gaza shelling hits doctor at home

A Palestinian doctor has been providing Israeli TV viewers with updates on the medical crisis unfolding in Gaza, but Friday's report was different: With sobs, he told how three daughters and a niece were killed by an Israeli shell. "I want to know why my daughters were harmed," Ezzeldeen Abu al-Aish, 55, said Friday after he was evacuated from the Gaza Strip. During the 21-day war, he has brought accounts of the fighting's tragedy to Israeli living rooms, making him for many the voice of Palestinian suffering. He also often spoke of his fears for his eight children. His wife reportedly died recently of cancer.

Israeli leaders to vote on cease-fire 01/16/09 [Last modified: Friday, January 16, 2009 10:46pm]
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