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Israel outlines its conditions for Gaza calm

Israel is seeking an international mechanism to prevent Hamas from rearming as part of any deal to end its Gaza offensive and stem Palestinian rocket fire, officials said on Monday.

world Updated: Jan 05, 2009 18:09 IST

Israel is seeking an international mechanism to prevent Hamas from rearming as part of any deal to end its Gaza offensive and stem Palestinian rocket fire, officials said on Monday.

Since Sunday, the Jewish state has engaged in intensive discussion with its allies -- including the United States, the European Union and some Arab states -- to work on the outlines of a possible agreement on the Gaza Strip.

Diplomatic efforts to end Israel's deadly 10-day-old offensive in the Islamists-ruled territory go into high gear on Monday with visits to the region by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, his Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and a delegation of European ministers.

"We understand that in order to maintain calm in the south, a calm that must be both sustainable and real, the international and regional actors will have an important role to play," Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev told AFP.

He added: "There is broad international consensus supporting Israel's goal of freeing the civilian population in the south from the daily fear of incoming Hamas rockets from Gaza.

"On the basis of that common goal, Israel is engaging energetically with friends and allies abroad."

Israel launched "Operation Cast Lead" on December 27 with the declared aim of halting rocket fire against southern Israel and smashing Hamas' military strength. More than 520 Palestinians have been killed in the offensive.

Israel has outlined three "fundamental principles" necessary for ending the military's air and ground offensive, according
to a senior official. These include "substantially destroying" Hamas' military power and deterring Hamas from firing rockets against southern Israel.

The third principle is creating a mechanism that will prevent Hamas from rearming through smuggling tunnels between Gaza and Egypt, the official said.

Israel has kept a tight blockade on the Gaza Strip for more than 18 months, driving some of the 1.5 million inhabitants to carve a network of tunnels into Egypt to bring in food and basic supplies. Armed Palestinian groups use some tunnels to smuggle in weapons and ammunition.

Another senior government official, speaking on condition on anonymity, said Israel rejects including Hamas in any future arrangements in the Gaza Strip, since the radical movement rejects the Jewish state's right to exist.

Hamas seized control of the Strip after the collapse of a unity government with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas's Fatah party. The government was set up after Hamas won Palestinian elections, seen largely as democratic.

"The agreement needs to be enforced on Hamas. Hamas is not a partner as long as it does not accept the three international conditions" of recognising Israel's right to exist, renouncing violence and adhering to past agreements between Israel and the Palestinians, he said.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday held talks with the leaders of Russia, Germany, France and the United Nations, telling them "Israel could not stop its military activity before it reaches the goals it has set," according to his office.

"This can be reached through further military measures or diplomatic measures which the international community must formulate," Olmert insisted in his conversation with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.