Israel denies reports of Hamas negotiations

    * Story Highlights
    * Israel's prime minister denies reports it is negotiating with Hamas
    * Hamas says agreement on a long-term truce is close
    * Release of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit high on PM's priority 

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israel's prime minister denied media reports that it is 
negotiating with the militant group Hamas, which controls Gaza, but said there 
will be Israeli "consultations" Sunday "regarding the situation in the south."

"Should a decision of any kind be required, it will be made only via a meeting 
of the Security Cabinet and after taking into account all of the new political 
circumstances that have been created in the wake of the recent Israeli 
elections," Yanki Galanti, the media adviser for Ehud Olmert, said Saturday 
night in a statement.

The consultations are to take place among Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak 
and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.

Israel held elections Tuesday which resulted in a near-tie between Livni's 
centrist Kadima party and the right-wing Likud party, led by Benjamin 
Netanyahu. It is not yet clear who will emerge as prime minister.

Israel agreed January 21 to temporarily halt its three-week military operation 
in Gaza, which it began in response to repeated rocket attacks into southern 
Israel. Since then, Egypt has been trying to broker an agreement between the 
two sides.

On Friday, a spokesman for Hamas told CNN that Israeli and Hamas negotiators 
have "almost reached agreement" on a long-term truce.

Tahir Annono, who is in Cairo for the truce meetings, said there would be 
meetings Friday and Saturday, and on Sunday an announcement would be made.

Hamas' deputy leader, Moussa Abu Marzouk, said that the truce would last for 18 
months and all commercial border crossings between Gaza and Israel would be 

The security of Israelis who have been targets of the rocket attacks from Gaza 
and the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit are priorities as Israel 
considers the next steps in its conflict with Hamas, Olmert said Saturday 
through his media adviser.

Olmert has been under pressure to secure Shalit's release as part of a broader 
cease-fire deal. However, the cease-fire in January did not include Shalit's 
release as a condition.

Shalit was 19 when he was captured on June 25, 2006, by Palestinian militants 
in Gaza. They tunneled into Israel and attacked an Israeli army outpost near 
the Gaza-Israel-Egypt border, killing two other soldiers in the assault. Israel 
immediately launched a military incursion into Gaza to rescue him, but failed.

"We should like to emphasize that the security of residents of the south and 
the release of Gilad Shalit are currently at the top (of) Israel's priorities," 
the statement said.
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