Israel, Hamas, Palestinians Agree To Talks

By: CBS News
By: CBS News

CAIRO, Egypt - Egypt's U.N. ambassador said Wednesday that representatives of Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas agreed to meet separately with Egyptian officials Thursday for talks on the Gaza crisis.

Ambassador Maged Abdelaziz told reporters that "representatives of all sides" planned to send technical delegations to Cairo to discuss an Egyptian-French initiative to end the fighting in Gaza.

He said the delegations would each meet with Egyptian officials, but the parties would not necessarily sit down in the same room together.

"The issue here is that for anything to start, there has to be some positive move. And the positive move is the cease-fire," he said, referring to the U.N. and Gaza.

The plan calls for an immediate cease-fire in the Israeli-Hamas conflict for a limited period to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has said Israel and the moderate Palestinian Authority - Hamas' rival - accepted the plan though it is not a direct party to the conflict. However, Hamas officials in Syria told CBS News that they could not agree to the plan because it does not guarantee open border crossings or an end to a crippling blockade.

Earlier Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the United States was supporting the Egyptian-French initiative.

Rice said she discussed "the importance of moving that initiative forward" with Arab ministers attending emergency Security Council meetings at U.N. headquarters on the Gaza crisis as well as the Israelis.

Abdelaziz said the talks will shape whether the U.N. Security Council agrees to a council resolution, as Arab nations want, or a lesser statement issued by the 15-nation council's president, as the U.S., Britain and France have proposed.

"We're not interested in a piece of paper," he said. "Egypt is receiving technical delegations from all parties. I understand some of them are arriving today, some of them are arriving tomorrow" in Cairo.

In Syria, Hamas spokesman Abu Omar told CBS News' George Baghdadi that Hamas could only agree to a plan which guaranteed to end the economic blockade and to reopen the border crossings as soon as hostilities on both sides were halted; what he called a "complete package."

Israel has no direct contacts with Hamas, but Mashaal indicated earlier Wednesday for the first time an apparent willingness to "contribute in reaching a solution to stop the aggression in Gaza." (Click here to read more on this from George Baghdadi in the World Watch blog.)

Meanwhile, Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rockets resumed after a brief pause to allow food and fuel to reach Palestinian civilians in Gaza, where an Israeli warplane dropped leaflets urging some residents to flee because of imminent attacks.

CBS News correspondent Mark Phillips reports the Israelis called it a "recess in offensive operations" -- but this was a recess in which nobody went outside to play. Instead the besieged people of Gaza came out to get what they need to survive.

A convoy of about 80 trucks loaded with relief supplies was allowed to enter the strip, Phillips reports.

Even as the Israeli government tentatively welcomed the cease-fire proposal from Egypt and France, its military was instructed to continue its assault on Hamas.

Israeli strikes in response to continued Hamas rocket fire on southern Israel have killed at least 688 Palestinians since Dec. 27, including around 350 civilians, among them 130 children, according to Palestinian officials.

The Israelis have released footage of prisoners they've captured and they continue to weaken Hamas, but they have not gotten near its leadership or apparently broken its will, Phillips reports. Yet the Israeli Cabinet has put off a decision whether to go to a further phase of this operation and push forward into the urban areas to seek out Hamas fighters.

Israel says it has killed at least 130 Gaza militants since it launched its ground offensive Saturday. Ten Israelis have been killed since the fighting began, including three civilians.


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