Lebanese newspaper Al-Nahar reported this weekend that Egypt's intelligence chief, General Omar Suleiman, warned terror organization Hamas that Israel will mount a large-scale offensive in Gaza if the group does not agree to a prisoner swap that includes abducted IDF Cpl. Gilad Shalit. Suleiman reportedly warned Moussa Abu Marzouk, Deputy Head of Hamas's "political bureau," that "Israel will deal a hard blow to Hamas and the Palestinian factions in Gaza" if Shalit is not returned to Israel.
Hamas's spokesman in Gaza, Aiman Taha, denied the report. He told Haaretz that Abu Marzouk did not even meet Suleiman, but only passed through Cairo in order to catch a connecting flight to Damascus. Taha said talks between Suleiman and Hamas would continue Tuesday.
Abu Marzouk, who heads the Hamas delegation to the talks in Cairo, dismissed the Israeli threats to attack Gaza. "If they [Israel] could, they would destroy Hamas in both Gaza and [Judea and Samaria]," he said. He added that a re-conquest of Gaza by Israel is unlikely because of the large number of casualties Israel could expect, as well as its lack of a plan for what to do the "day after."
Sources in Olmert's bureau estimated Friday that the U.S. may act against Iran before President Bush's term is over.
Ahmed Yousef, political advisor to Hamas's "Prime Minister" in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, said Friday that Hamas is not opposed to including "accelerated negotiations" for Shalit's release in the agreement with Israel, but that this must be done in accordance with the abductors' conditions.
Another Hamas spokesman, Fawzi Barhoum, gave a contradictory statement Friday. Barhoum said that Hamas would be willing to complete the talks on Shalit's release as soon as possible, but that these talks must not be connected with the talks regarding a temporary lull in hostilities, or "tahadiyeh."
Marzouk agreed with Barhoum, rejecting Israel's demand to link Shalit's release and the tahadiye talks. Marzouk said that Israel is not willing to release the 270 terrorist prisoners demanded by Hamas, and is prepared to free only 71 of them.
Prime Minister Olmert said at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting this morning (Sunday), "We are very close to the junction of decision regarding Gaza. The current situation will not continue. It would not be right to get into details and run this matter via the headlines. Let it suffice to say that we are convinced that under no circumstances can the situation in the south continue... The mission incumbent upon us is that the residents of the south should be able to live in peace and security."
Though Israeli officials have recently intimated - especially after the Katyusha attack on the Ashkelon shopping center last week - that a military strike on Gaza was near, Olmert thus left open various possibilities: A military offensive, a ceasefire, or continued threats.
Barak to Meet Mubarak
Defense Minister Ehud Barak will meet Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Sharm el-Sheikh Monday afternoon. The two are expected to discuss the Egyptian effort to work out an agreement between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni will meet Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah II in Sharm el-Sheikh on Sunday. She will update them on the negotiations with the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority regarding the "core issues" of the final status negotiations. Livni is also expected to say that there is no chance of a ceasefire deal with Hamas if the smuggling of arms into Gaza does not cease.
US Strike in Iran in 2008?
Mubarak met with US.President George W. Bush at the Red Sea resort Saturday. Bush told the Egyptian strongman that he believes a PA state can still be defined by the end of 2008.
Meanwhile, sources in Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's bureau estimated Friday that the United States may act against Iran before President Bush's term is over, IDF Radio reported. The sources said that in the closed door meetings between Bush and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the two discussed the possibilities of action against Ahmadinejad's regime, among other subjects.
According to the sources, President Bush said that the Iranian problem had to be met with a "radical solution" – one that will have a beneficial effect upon the entire Middle East and bring about a change in the behavior patterns of the Hizbullah and Hamas terrorist organizations.