(Reuters) - Israel, Hamas and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have entered talks with Egypt to try to iron out the terms of a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip.
Western diplomats predicted a difficult negotiation ahead.
Israel is seeking international and regional security guarantees to ensure the Islamist Hamas group cannot rearm.
The Palestinians, in turn, want Israel to end its crippling blockade of the aid-dependent coastal enclave.
“You need to find a carrot for both sides. That’s the only way it will work,” said a senior European diplomat.
Hamas officials in Gaza said the group was still considering the plan, denying reports that they had rejected it.
Based on interviews with diplomatic and political sources, here are the main components of the emerging ceasefire plan:
CESSATION OF HOSTILITIES
Once agreement is reached, Israel would unilaterally end its military operation, though it is unclear how quickly. Before stopping, it may opt to widen its ground offensive.
Israel will not enter into any formal ceasefire with Hamas because, it believes, doing so would only bolster the Islamist group’s standing, both at home and abroad.
Speaking to ambassadors in Tel Aviv, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said the goal was to “defeat” Hamas, not make a treaty with it. “This is not going to happen,” she said.
As Israel pulls out of Gaza, Hamas would stop firing rockets. Egypt and other Arab states would act as intermediaries. The Islamist group said the rockets would stop if Israel would lift its blockade of the Gaza Strip and halt cross-border raids.
This is the most important issue for Israel. Talks have centered on a proposed international deployment along the Gaza Strip’s border with Egypt to help prevent the Islamist group from bringing in more rockets and funds.
Israel wants the deployment to include both armed forces and experts that can search out and destroy tunnels along the narrow Philadelphi corridor, which separates the two sides.
Israeli aircraft have dropped bunker-buster bombs along the corridor, and large numbers of nearby Palestinian homes have been destroyed.
Israel’s stated goal is to destroy as many of the underground passages as possible. The unstated aim may be to widen the no-man’s land between Gaza and Egypt for future border fortifications, both above and below ground.
Israel and Western powers are also discussing a naval contingent to prevent smuggling by sea.
But differences remain. European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana said hunting for tunnels would “be done probably with technology, not with people.”
Israeli officials say advanced sonar can detect some tunnels but they were skeptical technology alone would prevent Palestinians from rebuilding them.
Unwilling to compromise on its sovereignty, Egypt has raised objections to armed international forces on its side of the border but would accept teams of technical advisers that would oversee the hunt for tunnels, a senior Israeli official said.
Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki said a consensus has yet to be reached on any border monitors: “It depends on the nature of the mandate of this mechanism and whether it would be responsible for the border or for other things, and these are things that will be agreed within days.”
Formal consent for any deployment on the Palestinian side of the border would come from President Mahmoud Abbas, who is bitterly at odds with Hamas. But Hamas objections could make their work impossible.
This is the most important issue for the Palestinians. The negotiations center on reopening Rafah, Gaza’s only border crossing with Egypt, under the auspices of Abbas’s security forces and European monitors.
Rafah has been largely closed since Hamas routed Abbas’s secular Fatah forces and took full control of Gaza in June 2007. Unarmed European monitors have not returned to the border terminal since then.
Reopening Rafah to passengers and some limited humanitarian supplies would give Abbas a foothold in Gaza. It would also meet a long-standing Hamas demand, though the group could object to being denied any role in border operations.
Abbas, the European Union and the United Nations want Gaza’s main crossings with Israel -- Karni, Kerem Shalom, Sufa, Nahal Oz and Erez -- to be reopened to humanitarian goods.
Abbas has long sought to retake control of the Palestinian side of the crossings. But it is unclear how much power Israel would be prepared to cede to Abbas or groups like the United Nations.
Reporting by Adam Entous in Jerusalem, Ari Rabinovitch in Tel Aviv and Jonathan Wright in Cairo; Editing by Samia Nakhoul
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