Top US general in Israel for post-ceasefire talks

John Allen previously drew up rejected Jordan Valley security plan; Hamas spokesman says organization is ready for a truce with ‘controversial issues’ to be discussed later

Retired Gen. John Allen briefs reporters at the Pentagon, May 23, 2012. (photo credit: Chad J. McNeeley/US Navy/DoD)
Retired Gen. John Allen briefs reporters at the Pentagon, May 23, 2012. (photo credit: Chad J. McNeeley/US Navy/DoD)

As fighting between Israel and Hamas persisted for a 50th day Tuesday, retired US general John Allen was set to meet with Israeli officials to discuss the possible renewal of peace talks with the Palestinians once the Gaza operation ends.

John Allen, a four-star marine and former commander of US forces in Afghanistan, arrived on an unannounced visit Monday night, Israel Radio reported.

He was previously involved in drawing up a US plan for security arrangements in the Jordan Valley reportedly rejected by both Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

His visit comes as Egyptian and Palestinian negotiators say the sides are working toward a ceasefire to end nearly two months of fighting between Israel and Hamas.

Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri said late Monday the Islamist group conceded that there are contacts to reach a truce between Israel and the Palestinian factions and that “the efforts are advancing more than in the past, but we haven’t received a concrete response from Israel.”

“We’re prepared to discuss at a later stage the various controversial issues: the sea port, the prisoners and the airport,” he said. “What’s important at this stage is ending the Israeli aggression, opening the crossings and rebuilding the Strip.”

Zuhri did not mention the lifting of Israel’s naval blockade which has been a main sticking point in negotiations.

Hamas is demanding an agreement to lift the blockade as part of a ceasefire whereas an Egyptian proposal, that Israel is said to support, calls for a lull first followed by talks on major issues.

Israel has not released any information about ceasefire talks. In the past officials in Jerusalem have said Israel would only negotiate if rocket fire stopped as part of a truce.

Rocket fire continued on Tuesday morning with several people lightly injured after a rocket hit a home in the southern town of Ashkelon.

Earlier in the morning Hamas said it fired a barrage of rockets including four at Tel Aviv and one at Haifa. The terror group said the rockets were in response to the overnight bombing of a tower block in Gaza City that left two dead and 20 injured. The IDF said one rocket was intercepted over Tel Aviv by the Iron Dome missile defense system.

The US has presented its own draft elements for a Security Council resolution on a ceasefire between Israel, Hamas and other Gaza-based terror groups, Reuters reported Monday, and is working with other countries on a joint text.

US officials and UN diplomats said the US draft has been presented to several countries and follows a separate text brought forward by Jordan and a previous one jointly by Britain, France and Germany.

“The US has come up with its own draft,” a UN diplomat, who declined to be named, told Reuters. “It’s quite different from the two others. Now they’re working to combine the drafts and come up with a common text.”

“We’ll work on coming up with a single draft,” another UN diplomat told Reuters “What’s important is that the Americans are engaging and there’s a new momentum in pushing for a ceasefire resolution in the Security Council that would be better than previous ones.”

UN diplomats said the US and Israel have been increasingly open to the idea of a Security Council resolution on a ceasefire.

Hamas has fired over 4,000 rockets at Israel in the past 50 days, including some 600 from close to schools, mosques and other civilian facilities, the Israeli army says.

Over 2,000 people have been killed in Gaza as Israel seeks to thwart the rocket attacks and smash a network of attack tunnels dug by Hamas under the border.

Gaza-based human rights groups claim over 70 percent of those killed are civilians, while Israel asserts 750-1,000 of the dead are Hamas and other gunmen.

It also blames Hamas for all civilian fatalities, since Hamas set up its rocket launchers, tunnel openings and other elements of its war machine in Gaza neighborhoods and uses Gazans as human shields.

Sixty-eight people have died on the Israeli side: 64 soldiers and 4 civilians, most recently a 4-year-old boy killed by mortar fire on Friday.

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