Hamas wants PLO structure, not platform: official

Rocket lands in Israel as Zahar speaks at end of negotiations


Hamas wants to maintain the organizational structure of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) but not its platform, following the removal of 28 articles from its charter, the group's senior leader said Sunday as the Israeli military said a rocket fired from Gaza landed in southern Israel.

Mahmoud al-Zahar spoke following negotiations in the Egyptian capital of Cairo, which have grown increasingly intense and complex. Egypt's proposal to stabilize post-war Gaza calls for an extended truce between Israel and Hamas, a prisoner exchange and the initial opening of at least two of the enclave's border crossings, diplomats said.

Under the proposal, Israel would halt attacks in the Gaza Strip and Hamas would stop cross-border rocket fire for up to 18 months. That would take the place of a shaky Jan. 18 truce that ended Israel's 22-day assault in which more than 1,300 Palestinians and fourteen Israelis were killed.

The rocket fired from the Hamas-run enclave Sunday damaged two cars and set one on fire but caused no injuries or casualties, a military spokesperson said.

Israel continued its air strikes on the strip as witnesses said they heard several explosions in the north of the strip.

Prisoner swap

In the second phase of the proposal, Israel would agree to swap Palestinian prisoners in its custody for Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier captured in Gaza in 2006. Palestinian officials have reported progress in those talks, which Israeli officials later denied.

A deal to free Shalit could boost Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni's centrist Kadima party and Defense Minister Ehud Barak's left-wing Labor in a national election on Tuesday that rightist Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu is now favored to win.

But releasing Hamas forces involved in attacks against Israelis could prove politically risky. Hamas has demanded 1,400 prisoners in exchange for Shalit, though diplomats said the final number may be closer to 1,000.

As a deal on the prisoners is implemented, Israel would expand the amount of goods entering the Gaza Strip through the Kerem Shalom crossing. It now regularly handles over 100 trucks a day but that number could grow to 250 or more, diplomats said.

Opening borders

A major sticking point in the talks has been Israel's insistence that certain materials be barred from entry because they could be used to make rockets, fortifications and explosives. These include certain types of steel piping and chemicals used in agriculture, Israeli defense officials said.

Hamas officials say they have demanded more details about what would be excluded from entering the impoverished enclave, which will require massive amounts of steel, cement and other commercial goods to rebuild after the war.

The Rafah border crossings between Gaza and Egypt would also reopen, with the presence of international monitors and border guards who would report to Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Hamas's rival.

The Islamist group, which beat Abbas's secular Fatah faction in a 2006 election and seized control of the Gaza Strip 18 months later, has been vague about the extent to which it would be willing to cede control of the Gaza side of the crossing to Abbas's security forces.

Diplomats said Rafah could also be opened to some commercial goods, though the terminal is not currently suited to handling large numbers of trucks.

Unity government

In the third stage of the Egyptian proposal, Abbas's Fatah faction, which runs the larger West Bank, and Hamas would agree to try to negotiate a unity government of technocrats that would be in place until an election can be held.

Diplomats said they were skeptical an agreement could be reached between the rivals.

Israel currently allows some 200 truckloads of goods into the Gaza Strip each day, far short of the 500 that the European Union says are needed.

The private sector Palestine Trade Center estimates that Gaza's border crossings could handle more than 1,600 truckloads daily, but only if Israel fully reopens Karni, Gaza's largest passage for commercial goods.

Israeli defense officials said Karni will not function normally until Hamas agrees to fully cede control there, either to Abbas's forces or foreigners. That could hinge on reconciliation talks, diplomats said.