The United States and Israel signed an agreement Friday intended to assure that Hamas militants will not be able to rearm if the Jewish state agrees to a Gaza cease-fire.
In front of an array of reporters and camera crews, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and visiting Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni signed the "memorandum of understanding" at the State Department.
At the signing ceremony, Livni described the deal as "a vital complement for a cessation of hostility" in the troubled region.
Livni said it could advance Israeli decision-making on the future of its offensive operations in Gaza. She added that it was meant "to complement Egyptian actions and to end of the flow of weapons to Gaza."
Under an Egyptian cease-fire proposal, fighting would stop immediately for 10 days, but Israeli forces would remain in place in Gaza and the border crossings into the territory would remain closed until security arrangements are made for the crossings.
Rice told reporters earlier that she hoped some European countries would work out similar bilateral agreements with Israel.
She accused Hamas of starting the fighting in Gaza by firing rockets towards Israel despite an earlier ceasefire.
Rice said Israel couldn't be expected to live under such dangerous conditions. The secretary of state added that Hamas was also responsible for the deterioration in Gazans' living situation, referring to the organization's hostile takeover of the Strip in 2007.
In her earlier remarks, Rice said the deal "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."
"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," Rice said before the signing ceremony.
"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 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. This is an enabling condition to get to a cease-fire."
Yitzhak Benhorin contributed to this report