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Friday, February 13, 2009 
07:11  Mecca time, 04:11  GMT     
News Middle East  
Hamas 'close to truce' with Israel   
Hamas says the deal will see the opening of all crossings into Gaza [AFP]    
Officials from the Palestinian group Hamas have said that an 18-month ceasefire 
with Israel will be announced within three days.
The officials, speaking in Egypt on Thursday, said the agreement
would ensure the end of violence in Gaza and the opening of the
territory's border crossings. Moussa
Abu Marzouq, the Hamas deputy political leader, told Al Jazeera that
"in two, three days, Inshallah [God willing], we are going to announce
the calm situation".
Mahmoud al-Zahar, another senior Hamas official, said the parties
were now just waiting for "the technical points - the communication
between the Egyptian side with the Israelis in order to address the
time ... at what time and what date the ceasefire [will] start".
Jazeera's Amr El-Kahky, reporting from Cairo, said the apparent
breakthrough came after senior Hamas officials met Omar Suleiman, the
Egyptian intelligence chief, on Thursday.
Egyptian officials have been mediating between Israel and Hamas for weeks.
Taher al-Nono, a member of the Hamas delegation in Cairo, said "most
of the obstacles that prevented us from reaching an agreement were
'Very embarrassing'
But Khalil Jahshan, a Middle East consultant and lecturer in
international studies at Pepperdine University in the US, cautioned
that "we've been here before, ad nauseam".
Analysis and features 
from Gaza after the war 
He told Al Jazeera that neither Hamas nor Israel would be interested
in revealing the sequence or substance of their agreement because "it
would defy, basically, the logic of the fighting of the past couple of
"This type of agreement could have been reached without the killing
and savagery that we have witnessed during the Gaza war," he said.
Details of the deal could also be "very embarrassing" because Israel
would have to admit that it was not just indirectly talking to Hamas
but making a deal with a group it deems to be a "terrorist
organisation" – things it said it would never do.
Israel had also said it would never open the crossings with Gaza
before the release of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier captured
by Palestinian fighters in a cross-border raid in June 2006, but it
appeared it was going to do so before his release, Jahshan said.
Abu Marzouq said the agreement was not linked to any possible
prisoner exchange deal with Israel that would see the release of Shalit.
Fragile ceasefires
"This is a separate issue that has no relation with the truce," he
said. "Gilad Shalit will be [released] in exchange for Palestinian
Hamas has previously demanded that Israel free 1,400 Palestinian prisoners in 
exchange for Shalit.
Jahshan said that Hamas would not want it revealed that there will
be some conditions placed on the crossings with Israel and the Rafah
crossing with Egypt.
The longer-term truce deal would take the place of fragile
ceasefires declared separately by Israel and Hamas last month which
ended Israel's 22-day military offensive on the Gaza Strip.
About 1,300 Palestinians, at least a third of them women and children, were 
killed during the war. Fourteen Israelis died.
Gaza war inquiry
The UN secretary-general's office announced on Thursday that an inquiry had 
been opened into incidents in Gaza during the war.
About 1,300 Palestinians were killed in Israel's 22-day offensive on Gaza [AFP] 
Comprising members from Britain, the US, Sri Lanka and Switzerland, the
board is to "review and investigate a number of specific incidents that
occurred in the Gaza Strip" in which death or injuries occurred at UN
premises or damage was done to UN premises or operations. 
Hamas sources told Al Jazeera that once the ceasefire was in place
all crossing points into the Palestinian territory would be opened.
The group said it would accept Israel continuing to ban the import
of so-called "dual-use" items which could be used for military
purposes, such as some construction material, provided that
alternatives could be found.
Hamas has repeatedly sought guarantees that Israel will lift the
blockade it has enforced on Gaza since Hamas seized the territory from
forces loyal to Mahmoud Abbas, the Western-backed Palestinian
president, in June 2007.
Abu Marzouq said Egypt was the main guarantor of the deal.
Egypt, a regional mediator and the only Arab state other than Jordan
to have signed a peace deal with Israel, said earlier that it would
announce "positive" results from the talks in the coming hours.
A deal would help restore Cairo's regional image after it was
criticised in the Arab world for not opening its Rafah border crossing
with Gaza and for its limited humanitarian operation during Israel's
 Source: Al Jazeera and agencies   
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