New Details on U.S.-Israel Pact to Block Arms to Hamas

Jan 15, 2009 7:13pm

ABC News’ Kirit Radia reports: The United States and Israel are hammering out a deal late this evening that would guarantee U.S. support in helping to block arms shipments from reaching Hamas in Gaza as fighting between Israeli troops and militants there nears the end of its third week.

An Israeli official said under the agreement, the United States would spearhead and effort to enlist the support of other countries in preventing arms from reaching Gaza.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is on her way to Washington, D.C. and could ink a sort of memorandum of understanding with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice tomorrow.

Late this afternoon, Rice hinted a deal was in the works, telling reporters, "We are discussing with the Israelis and others what we can do to bolster the possibilities of getting to the durable cease-fire that we are all seeking."

"There are several elements to that and we are working with regional partners and also with the Israelis," she added, offering no details on the draft agreement.

The director general of Israel’s Foreign Minister Aaron Abramovich met at the State Department with acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman to work out the details of an agreement.

Jonathan Peled, a spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington, said the deal was several days in the works, and would be a "commitment for addressing in a concerted international way the prevention of smuggling arms into Gaza."

Israel is considering signing onto an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire, but has been concerned that a halt in fighting would only allow Hamas to re-arm.

This agreement with the United States would, Israel hopes, add another layer of security to ensure that arms don’t even reach the Egyptian border with Gaza, where underground tunnels have been used to smuggle weapons in.

Under the agreement, according to an Israeli official who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because the text has not yet been made public, the United States would organize like-minded countries to use methods like interdiction to prevent arms from reaching Gaza.

The effort would be similar, the Israeli official said, to the Proliferation Security Initiative, which is an agreement among several countries to prevent sensitive nuclear technology from falling into the wrong hands. That agreement allows countries to interdict shipments at sea thought to be headed for hostile elements.

The Israeli official said there have been preliminary talks with several European countries who are expected to sign on in support.

The official did not know if the incoming Obama administration had officially signed off on the proposed agreement, but said Israel is confident they will not back out of the deal once President-elect Barack Obama takes office on Tuesday.

A spokeswoman for Obama’s transition team declined to comment when asked if the new team had been kept informed or agreed with the U.S.-Israeli deal.

Livni is expected to leave Washington, D.C. on Saturday, but an Israeli official said so far she has no plans to meet with members of the incoming Obama team.

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