Long-term truce for Gaza 'within days'

Original source: Palestinian negotiators predicted a long-term truce on Friday for the besieged Gaza Strip 'within days.'

The Hamas government said that talks in Cairo aimed at achieving a long-term truce were close to success.

Egypt is mediating between Israel and Hamas because the two sides will not negotiate directly.

Late on Thursday, Hamas deputy leader Moussa Abu Marzouk said that the Islamic resistance movement had agreed to an 18-month truce with Israel and that it would be announced within two days after Hamas consults with other Palestinian parties.

Mr Abu Marzouk said that the deal called for Israel to reopen its border crossings into Gaza, fulfilling the central Palestinian demand.

Gaza has been under siege by Israel and Egypt since the government defeated an attempted coup by security forces loyal to the opposition Fatah party of President Mahmoud Abbas in the territory in June 2007.

Hamas spokesman Taher Nunun said on Friday that he expected an agreement 'within the coming three days.' He said that progress had been made on a ceasefire, on a reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah and on reconstruction funds for Gaza.

Intelligence chief Omar Suleiman has said that four obstacles remained to be resolved - 'firing rockets, establishing a buffer zone between Gaza and Israel, a Hamas commitment to respect calm and a halt to weapons smuggling.'

Israeli defence officials said that the talks were serious and making progress. An initial agreement could involve a partial opening of Gaza's crossings, they said, with a later agreement to include the release of sergeant Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier held by Hamas since 2006, in return for the release of Palestinian prisoners.

But violence continued in the Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank despite the current informal ceasefire.

Two rockets fired from Gaza by resistance fighters on Friday hit near a communal farm and the town of Sderot. No-one was injured and no organisation claimed responsibility.

Hours later, an Israeli air strike killed a man and critically wounded another near Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip. The dead man was a member of the small Popular Resistance committees group.

In the West Bank city of Hebron, a teenager was shot dead by a soldier guarding an illegal Israeli settlement. The Israeli army claimed that the teenager had been shot as he was in a group of Palestinian youths who had been throwing rocks at a military guard tower.