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Israel Weighs Unilateral Ceasefire Without Peace Deal

The Israeli security cabinet was expected to vote Saturday night on a ceasefire proposal, as the military campaign entered its fourth week and airstrikes continued overnight across the Gaza Strip.

Soldiers in Gaza, smoke in the background

Israel may call off the fight

The government of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said it may put an end to the offensive without sealing a deal with the Hamas militants who control Gaza.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Friday that an end to the war "doesn't have to be in agreement with Hamas but rather in arrangements against Hamas." She was in Washington to sign a deal for US help in ensuring Hamas no longer smuggles arms to Gaza via Egypt.

On Saturday, Hamas official Osama Abu Hemdan warned that the Islamist group would fight on if Israel orders a unilateral ceasefire in Gaza.

Attacks continued in the early morning hours. Israeli warplanes reportedly hit about 50 targets during the night, including rocket-launching sites, tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border as well as mosques used as points from where militants fired at Israel.

Israeli security council considers ceasefire

Olmert's office on Friday said there had been "significant progress" in talks in Cairo, where an Israeli delegation had been in discussions with Egypt's intelligence chief.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, left, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, right, participate in a signing ceremony at the State Department in Washington, Friday, Jan. 16, 2009

The US pledged to help prevent Hamas from smuggling arms

Israel and Hamas, the Islamist group which rules Gaza, do not talk to each other directly but go through Cairo, which has been pushing for a ceasefire based on a short-term humanitarian truce, followed by negotiations on a longer-term ceasefire that would include the Israeli security concerns and the militants' demand that the borders be opened.

The security cabinet vote would likely take place in the evening, after the end of the Jewish Sabbath, giving Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak time to discuss the proposal with their representatives who returned from two trips to Cairo in two days.

There has been speculation that Israel might opt for a unilateral cessation of hostilities, a move United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had also called for during his Mideast tour.

Hamas opposed to Israeli stipulations

Khaled Meshaal, Hamas' Damascus-based political leader, said in Doha, at a summit of Arab leaders, that his organization would not accept Israeli dictates on the ceasefire, and that the militant group "had not suffered a defeat" in the Gaza fighting.

Representatives of Hamas on Saturday were to meet with Egyptian negotiators to discuss Israel's response to their stipulations. Hamas has offered a renewable one-year truce, on the condition that all Israeli troops withdraw within one week and that border crossings between Israel and Egypt are opened.

Over 1,150 Palestinians, largely civilians, have been killed and some 5,100 injured since Israel began Operation Cast Lead on Dec. 27 in an attempt to stop Palestinian rocket fire at southern parts of the Jewish state. The first week of the offensive focused on airpower and on Jan. 3 the ground troops moved into the enclave.

Three Israeli civilians and 10 soldiers have died since the operation began, and over 700 rockets have been fired from Gaza.

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