Israel supports the continuation of the ceasefire in Gaza – if Hamas adheres to the conditions. This is the message Amos Gilad, the head of the Defense Ministry's Diplomatic-Security Bureau, intends to relay to Egypt. Gilad will also seek to determine what progress has been made in the negotiations for the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit.
Gilad is scheduled to leave for Cairo tomorrow, where he will meet with Egyptian Intelligence Minister Omar Suleiman. His trip had been planned as one unrelated to the ceasefire agreement's expiration on
December 19, however the visit will stress Israel's views on the matter.
The Defense Ministry stated that over the last week the artillery fired by terrorist organizations in Gaza has decreased, and that Hamas is assumed to support the extension of the ceasefire agreement with Israel.
The Prime Minister's Office justified the recent barrage of artillery as evidence of the organization's desire to achieve the upper hand at the negotiating table.
Both the Defense Ministry and the Prime Minister's Office stated that despite the recent escalation in violence towards Israel, the ceasefire would continue if Hamas was willing, and if it ceased its fire.
Hamas' representative in Lebanon, Osama Hamadan, said on Saturday that his movement intends to relay its position regarding the lull in the coming days, possibly even by Sunday.
Officials within Hamas said the Islamist group believes the lull should be extended, however there will likely be new conditions stipulated in the renewal of the agreement – namely that Israel must vow to keep the border crossings permanently open.
Israel has frequently shut down the crossings in response to rocket attacks on its towns, in the past month alone more than 200 Qassam rockets and mortar shells have landed in the western Negev region.
Hamas sources say that if the issue of the crossings were to be resolved, they will be able to convince the other armed Palestinian groups to agree to the extension. Neither Hamas nor the other factions believe the situation in the West Bank will hinder the extension.
In the initial agreement it was specified that after the lull was established in Gaza, both sides would examine the possibility of expanding it to the West Bank as well. Hamas understands that Israel's willingness to discuss the possibility of a lull in the West Bank would constitute a heavy blow to the authority of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and therefore they are unlikely to push the matter.
And what of Shalit? At this point the negotiations are stagnated. Israel has so far authorized the release of 220 Palestinian prisoners of a list of 450 submitted by Hamas. The defense establishment says that regarding the release of some 1,000 additional Palestinian prisoners – mostly women, minors, seniors, and those whose release date is approaching – there is little argument.
Senior officials say the contention is over 230 prisoners, most of them involved in major terror attacks against Israel who were convicted of murder. At present Gilad's trip to Cairo is not expected to yield any results on the matter of Shalit.
The continuation of the ceasefire agreement has been under scrutiny over the weekend due to the ongoing captivity of Gilad Shalit. Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Saturday that Israel must do everything to secure the kidnapped soldier's release.
Barak was responding to a remark made by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who said that "not all troops can be returned".
Speaking at an event in the central city of Holon, the Labor chairman said, "We mustn't kid ourselves. In order to return Gilad we'll have to make tough decisions, some of which also hold risks, but I'm willing to take the responsibility in order to see him among us. The last think we should do is renounce responsibility."