is monitoring the public opinion polls in Israel
ahead of the February 10 general elections and is trying to convince Hamas
to relax its demands for a deal with the Jewish state before the end of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's
tenure, the London-based Arabic-language newspaper al-Sharq al-Awsat reported Monday, quoting Israeli sources.
According to the report, Egypt warned Hamas that the next Israeli government, which according to the polls will be headed by Likud
Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu
– will take more radical stances. Therefore, they said, the Palestinian movement must take advantage of the opportunity as long as the Olmert government is still in power, for fear of "losing everything".
The sources quoted by the paper estimated that Cairo understand the next two weeks will be crucial and will be seen as Hamas' "last opportunity for a good deal".
They said Olmert was interested in completing his tenure with a major agreement such as the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni
is interested in the deal "because her popularity is declining", and Defense Minister Ehud Barak
wishes "to strengthen his rise in the polls".
Will Karni crossing open? (Photo: AP)
According to the report, on Sunday Egypt offered the Hamas delegation to the Cairo talks a "package deal" with Israel which would include new understandings on a truce in return to lifting the siege, opening the crossings and forming a prisoner exchange deal.
Israel suggested several initiatives, including the release of 1,050 Palestinian prisoners. However, only 280 of the names are included on Hamas' original list of demands, and the Jerusalem has made it clear that there would be no more flexibility.
The innovation, according to the paper, is in the number of prisoners. In addition, Israel is willing to remove additional military checkpoints in the West Bank.
Hamas delegates met
Sunday with Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman. According to the London-based Arabic-language al-Hayat newspaper, the movement controlling the Gaza Strip agreed to an 18-month truce in exchange for the opening of all crossings "at full production".
The organization has expressed its objection in the past to a year-long truce, with the option of renewing it in the future.
A member of the delegation said, however, that his organization had turned down an Israeli offer which included an unlimited lull and the opening of all crossings in return for Gilad Shalit.
"We stressed our refusal to link between the crossings' operation and Shalit's release," the Hamas member said. "The Shalit issue is separate and is only related to the prisoners' issue."
The same man noted that Hamas opposed the opening of the Rafah crossing according to an agreement from 2005, saying that the movement agreed to the stationing of international observers at the crossing, as long as they include Turkish monitors and as long as they are stationed in el-Arish in Egypt or in Gaza, in addition to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas'
presidential guard members who reside in the Strip.