Israel’s security cabinet is expected to meet Saturday night to declare a cease-fire in Gaza and will keep its forces there in the short term while the next stage of an agreement with Egypt is worked out.
“It looks as if all the pieces of the puzzle are coming together,” Mark Regev, a spokesman for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, said Friday. “There will be discussions tomorrow morning, and it looks like a cabinet meeting will take place tomorrow night. Everyone is very upbeat.”
The most promising element for bringing the three-week conflict to a close occurred in Washington on Friday, where Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni of Israel signed an understanding on a range of steps the United States would take to stem the flow of new arms to Hamas from the Egyptian Sinai, mostly via tunnels.
The agreement came on the last business day of the Bush administration and set the stage for the Obama administration to play a more active role in resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict. President-elect Barack Obama and Secretary of State-designate Hillary Rodham Clinton signed off on the plan, the State Department said.
Whether Hamas will comply with the terms of parallel talks with Egypt was unclear. At a meeting organized by Qatar, a top exiled Hamas leader rejected Israeli terms for a cease-fire and called for increased resistance.
“Israel will not be able to destroy our resistance, and the United States will not be able to dictate us their rules,” the leader, Khaled Meshal, said in defiant remarks broadcast worldwide. “Arab countries should help Hamas to fight against the death of civilian Palestinians.”
But the Gaza branch of Hamas, squabbling with exiles out of the line of Israeli fire, seems to have agreed to much of Egypt’s cease-fire proposal.
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