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US, Israel to jointly battle smuggling

Jan 16, 2009 18:59


US, Israel to jointly battle smuggling

With only four days remaining until the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama - a date widely regarded by Israeli analysts as the cut-off date for Israel's Operation Cast Lead against Hamas in Gaza, the prospects for a mutually agreed ceasefire between Israel and the Islamist terror group seemed slimmer than earlier in the week.

Defense Ministry Diploamtic-Security chief Amos Gilad returned from Egypt Friday afternoon and was briefing Defense Minister Ehud Barak in Tel Aviv on his meeting with Egyptian officials there.

An official statement from the Defense Ministry remained mum on the details of Gilad's briefing to Barak upon his arrival but Israel TV media quoted unnamed sources as saying Gilad could not secure from the Egyptians any concrete obligations from Hamas leadership.

In a diplomatic race against the clock, Foreign Ministry Tzipi Livni was concurrently holding a meeting with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in order to arrive at an MOU - a memorandum of understanding - that would give it guarantees of cooperation against arms smuggling.

Some of the clauses in the memorandum, that would bind the incoming US administration as well, included measures against Iran, Hamas's main backer as regards funding and armament.

During an interview to Channel 10 shortly after concluding her meeting with Rice, Livni hinted that some US forces, as well as NATO and other regional countries, will work directly with Israel "in land and at sea" to combat weapons smuggling.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's preference was to conclude a ceasefire "over Hamas's head" regardless of the terror group's position, working with Egypt and the US, the station reported.

"The MOU that Foreign Minister Livni and I will sign should be thought of as one of the elements of trying to bring into being a durable cease-fire, a cease-fire that can actually hold," Rice told reporters.

"As you know, there are a number of conditions that need to be obtained if a cease-fire is to be durable. ... And among them is to do something about the weapons smuggling and the potential for resupply of Hamas from other places, including from Iran," she added.

"This we see as part of a broader international effort on the information sharing" on how to deal with weapons shipments," she said.

Rice's chief spokesman, Sean McCormack, said later that the memorandum is about two and a half pages and is "a very general framework, underpinned by a number of understandings." Among the understandings, he said, is a US commitment of "resources, wherewithal and technology necessary in order to fulfill our part of the bargain. The essential element of this is to inhibit the ability of Hamas to rearm."

McCormack added: "This is an enabling condition to get to a cease-fire."

Diplomats said earlier that the text calls for enhanced intelligence cooperation and US technical and logistical support for border monitors.

Livni said at the press conference that "We do not make agreements with terror but find effective arrangements against it."

Livni cautioned that a halt to Israel's campaign must be based on enforceable guarantees that the situation on the ground must change and "will not come from a simple call for a ceasefire."

US diplomats said the hope was that the agreement would satisfy Israeli concerns about reopening Gaza border crossings and will be an important piece of an Egyptian cease-fire initiative being negotiated in Cairo to end the fighting that has killed some 1,100 Palestinians since Israel launched the operation on Dec. 27. Thirteen Israelis have been killed, four by rocket fire, according to the military.

"Once this is signed, hopefully Israel will be comfortable enough to allow the border crossings to reopen," one official said.


Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, center, Islamic Jihad head Ramadan Shallah and Ahmad Jebril, Secretary General of the Popular Front For the Liberation of Palestine-General Command attend the emergency Arab summit on Gaza in Doha, Qatar on Friday.

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Added: Jan-16-2009 
Iran, Middle East
Tags: egypt, israel, HAMass, us, ceasfire
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