Egypt has reached a preliminary agreement with Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that controls the Gaza Strip, on a truce with Israel, Egypt's state newspaper al-Ahram said yesterday.
"Egypt has reached a preliminary agreement with Hamas on the methods of achieving a period of calm with the Israelis, and (intelligence chief) Omar Suleiman will relay the results of these contacts and the principles of the agreement to Israel to reach a final agreement," the paper said.
Al-Ahram attributed the information to "an informed source", but the comments came in the context of comments by President Hosni Mubarak to Egyptian reporters accompanying him on a visit to France.
Mubarak told the reporters that a proposed Middle Eastern summit in Egypt could only be effective if attended by Israeli premier Ehud Olmert, as well as US President George W. Bush and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Egypt had earlier said that a Middle East summit that could bring together Bush and Egyptian, Jordanian and Palestinian leaders in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh in May was under discussion.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said on Friday Egypt was making good progress trying to negotiate a tacit ceasefire, including a prisoner exchange, between Israel and Hamas.
Aboul Gheit said the mediation plan called for a cessation of hostilities on both sides, a prisoner swap, and opening the border crossings between Israel and Gaza, which have been regularly blockaded by Israel.
Israel and the United States call Hamas a terrorist group and shun contacts with it, but Washington has quietly given a nod for Egypt to negotiate with Hamas.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said yesterday the Bush administration explicitly warned former US President Jimmy Carter against meeting with members of Hamas.
Rice, attending a regional meeting on Iraq's security and future, contradicted Carter's assertions that he never got a clear signal from the State Department. Rice said that the US thought the visit could confuse the message that the US will not deal with Hamas.
"I just don't want there to be any confusion," Rice said. "The United States is not going to deal with Hamas and we had certainly told President Carter that we did not think meeting with Hamas was going to help" further a political settlement between Israel and the Palestinians.
Carter said top Hamas leaders told him during seven hours of talks in Damascus over the weekend that they are willing to live next to Israel, but a top Hamas official said the group would never outright recognize the Jewish state.
Separately, a Hamas official said yesterday the militant group has softened its demands for a cease-fire with Israel.
Spokesman Ghazi Hamad said Hamas is now prepared for a partial truce that would only include the Gaza Strip.
The group previously has demanded the West Bank be included in any deal. Still, it hopes a Gaza truce will eventually spread to the West Bank as well.
In return, Hamas wants Israel and Egypt to open their trade and passenger crossings with Gaza. The border has been sealed since Hamas violently seized control of Gaza last June.
Source: China Daily/Agencies