By Mahmoud Ali – Cairo
The Palestinian resistance group Hamas has accepted an Egyptian-brokered 18-month truce with Israel in return for lifting the crippling Israeli siege on the Gaza Strip.
"We have agreed to a truce with Israel for one year and a half," Hamas political deputy chief Moussa Abu-Marzouq told IslamOnline.net.
"Under the deal, all Gaza’s six crossings will be opened and all forms of military action and aggression be halted.
"We will have the right to respond to any Israeli violation of the truce," he said.
An Egyptian source confirmed that Hamas told Egypt that it has accepted the truce deal with Israel.
"Egypt will hold contacts with (Palestinian) President Mahmoud Abbas, faction leaders and the Israeli side to agree on some technical issues before announcing the truce in the coming two days," he told IOL.
The new truce deal will replace a fragile ceasefire declared after last month’s deadly Israeli war in Gaza, which killed more than 1,400 people and wounded 5,450.
Egypt has been mediating a long-term truce deal between Israel and Hamas as the two sides refuse to talk to each others.
During the Israeli war, Egypt had proposed a three-point truce plan beginning with an immediate ceasefire to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza, followed by meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials to secure a long-term ceasefire.
Egypt also proposed the resumption of Palestinian unity talks.
"A second item of Egypt’s three-point ceasefire plan will be realized once the truce is announced," the source said.
"We will then move ahead to implement the third item for achieving Palestinian reconciliation and restoring unity."
An Egyptian source said the deal stipulates an 18-month Gaza truce between the Palestinian factions and Israel.
"Under the deal, all parties will abide by ceasing fire and refraining from all forms of hostilities for a period that can be renewed with the approval of all parties," the source told IOL.
The deal grants the Palestinian and Israeli parties the right for an "immediate response" to any aggression.
It also stipulates the creation of a 300-meter buffer zone on Gaza-Israel border where gunmen are not allowed.
"(In return) Israel will abide by opening Gaza’s six crossings to goods and fuel to meet the needs of the Gaza population," said the source.
Israel has been closing all commercial crossings with Gaza since Hamas’s takeover, leaving the 1.6 million population without electricity, water and sewage services for up to 16 hours a day.
The truce deal also speaks of deploying Turkish monitors to join their European peers to operate the Rafah crossing, Gaza’s sole window to the outside world.
It also allows Palestinian factions, including Hamas, to have members among the Palestinian Authority forces at the terminal under the 2005 border deal with Israel.
The deal also says Egypt is the sole body responsible for monitoring its borders with Gaza without any foreign presence.
Hamas officials said that Egypt has offered guarantees for implementing the truce deal with Israel.
"Cairo has pledged to intervene to stop any Israeli breach," members at Hamas’s delegation in Cairo told IOL.
Osama Hamdan, Hamas’s representative in Lebanon, said Egypt had offered "reasonable guarantees."
"The truce will open the crossings with guarantees of the passage of needed goods into Gaza," he told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
Hamas said the truce deal does not include any prisoner swap with Israel.
"The deal is not linked to any prisoner swap agreement with Israel," Abu-Marzouq, the group’s political deputy chief, told IOL.
He, however, said that Hamas has submitted a list of Palestinian prisoners to Egypt.
"If the Israelis accepted it, the deal could be reached."
Hamas insists on the release of 1,400 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails in exchange for freeing an Israeli soldier captured in a cross-border raid in 2006.
Israel had insisted that Hamas release the soldier as a condition for ending its blockade of Gaza.
Egypt has also invited Palestinian factions for dialogue to restore Palestinian unity.
"We received an Egyptian invitation to attend Palestinian dialogue on February 22," Abu-Marzouq said.
"Hamas has accepted the invitation and would act with true intentions to close the Palestinian ranks."
Senior Hamas and Fatah leaders held a high-level meeting in Cairo late Thursday to prepare for the dialogue.
"We have agreed to open a new page in Hamas-Fatah relations to help restore Palestinian unity to stand up to challenges facing the Palestinian cause," said Abu-Marzouq.
A raft of issues were discussed during the meeting, including the thorny issue of political detainees held by both groups.
"We have discussed a number of issues, including media incitement and the reconstruction process."
Hamas leader Ismail Radwan said the two groups agreed to form a liaison committee to prepare for Palestinian reconciliation.
Egyptian mediators have submitted a paper on the main topics on the February 22 dialogue.
The paper talks of forming a national unity government and holding new presidential and legislative elections under the Palestinian Basic Law.
It also speaks about revamping the Palestinian security bodies on ‘professional and national’ bases and reviving the umbrella Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).