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Abbas outlines possible deal on Gaza offensive-aides

Written by: Staff
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GAZA, July 23 (Reuters) Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told militants that Israel was prepared to end its Gaza offensive if they agreed to stop firing rockets into the Jewish state, Abbas's aides and militants said today.

Palestinian officials said the proposal would mark a departure for Israel, which launched its Gaza offensive last month to secure the release of Corporal Gilad Shalit, captured by three militant factions, including the governing Hamas group, in a cross border raid.

Palestinian factions said Abbas told them that Israel passed the proposal on to him through a foreign government during meetings in Gaza. Abbas did not name the government.

''The proposal the president presented talked about an Israeli readiness to end its aggression against the Palestinians in return for an end to rocket firing from Gaza,'' Khader Habib, a leader of the Islamic Jihad militant group, told Reuters.

Habib, who took part in the meeting with Abbas, said of the proposal, ''It did not include the release of the soldier.'' Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev declined to discuss any specific proposals but said any resolution to the crisis must include the return of Shalit.

''The crisis in Gaza was initiated by Hamas aggression against Israel, countless rocket attacks into Israeli communities, the killing of some of our service people as well as the taking of Corporal Gilad Shalit hostage,'' Regev said. ''A solution to the situation in Gaza has to encompass all of these core elements.'' A Fatah official close to Abbas said any agreement was contingent on whether Israel would abide by a ceasefire. ''There was no agreement reached to stop rocket firing amid the continued Israeli aggression against our people,'' he said.

Senior Hamas leader Osama al-Muzaini told Reuters any discussion over a possible ceasfire would only be possible after Israel ends ''all its attacks, raids and assassinations'' in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

''Let all Israeli attacks be stopped, then the factions will seriously look into future steps it can take,'' Muzaini said.

The Fatah official said the factions agreed to continue their discussions after repeated calls by Abbas and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas for an end to the offensive.

The Palestinian Health Ministry estimates that 115 Palestinians have been killed, at least 50 of whom were gunmen.

Some militants said they suspected the proposal was disclosed in a bid to sideline Gaza militants while fighting raged along Israel's northern border with Lebanon between Israeli forces and Hizbollah guerrillas.

''If it becomes clear that that was the aim, then we will reject it,'' Habib said.

REUTERS DKS PC1736

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