CAIRO – Former Israeli army and security officials have recommended talks with Hamas for a long-term ceasefire, warning against any large-scale offensive against the besieged Gaza Strip, Haaretz reported on Sunday, May 18.
"Non-public negotiations should take place with Hamas through Egypt or anyone else acceptable to both sides," the officials wrote in an open letter, copies of which were sent to Israeli Premier Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
"In my opinion it is correct to speak with Egypt to reach a cease-fire with Hamas, on the condition that it includes all the organizations in the Strip and does not apply to the West Bank," former army chief Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, one of the signatories, told Haaretz.
Other prominent signatories include former Mossad chief Ephraim Halevi and the former commander of Israeli troops in Gaza Shmuel Zakai.
They said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the US should be involved in the talks.
They also believe talks should lead to the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, captured by Palestinian groups in 2006 to exchange for Palestinian detainees in Israel.
Egypt has been trying to broker a truce between Israel and the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, home to 1.6 million Palestinians.
Palestinian resistance groups have agreed to the proposal, which would halt rocket fire from Gaza in return to a cessation of Israeli attacks and the lifting of the Israeli blockade.
Israel has been closing the Gaza Strip’s exits to the outside world since June and completely locked down the area since January, banning food and fuel shipment supplies.
Hamas is sending a delegation to Cairo on Monday, May 19, to hear the Israeli response conveyed to Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Soliman last week.
The former Israeli officials warned against staging a large-scale offensive in the besieged Gaza Strip.
They stressed that ending the Hamas regime in Gaza "is not a realistic goal and reinstating Fatah in the Gaza Strip by means of Israeli bayonets is not desirable."
Several ministers in Israel’s security cabinet have favored a large-scale military operation to crush Hamas, which has been controlling Gaza since routing rival Fatah in June.
"Under no circumstances can we allow the situation in the south to continue the way it has in recent months," Olmert told the weekly cabinet meeting.
"The crossroads on a decision on how things will be handled is very close."
The Israeli military juggernaut carries out regular air strikes and limited incursions into Gaza.
Late February, Israel unleashed an air and ground blitz against the sealed off coastal strip that claimed the lives of more than 129 people, including more than 40 children, toddlers and newborn babies, as well as 13 women.