updated 2/12/2009 6:21:33 PM ET 2009-02-12T23:21:33

The deputy leader of Hamas said Thursday night that the Islamic militant group agreed to an 18-month truce with Israel for the Gaza Strip, the official Egyptian news agency reported.

Moussa Abu Marzouk told MENA that Egypt's government, which has been mediating between Hamas and Israel, would announce the truce in two days after consulting with other Palestinian factions.

In Jerusalem, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office said the Israeli government had no comment on the report.

Earlier in the day, Egyptian and Hamas officials reported progress in truce talks, which included Hamas' strongman from Gaza, Mahmoud Zahar, and Egypt's top mediator, intelligence chief Omar Suleiman.

Egyptian diplomats have been working as go-betweens to try to arrange a truce deal between Hamas and Israel to solidify a cease-fire that ended Israel's devastating 22-day offensive in Gaza last month. Hamas and Israel refuse to negotiate directly.

Marzouk told MENA that the Egyptian-brokered deal it agreed to calls for Israel to reopen six border crossings into the Gaza Strip.

Sticking point
Hamas leaders centered its truce demands on a reopening of the tiny coastal territory's borders, which have been largely sealed by Egypt and Israel since Hamas gunmen seized control in Gaza in 2007.

Israel, in turn, insisted that any cease-fire must include an end to militants firing rockets from Gaza into southern Israel and a halt to Hamas arms smuggling.

In talking to MENA, Marzouk did not discuss details. But earlier Thursday he told Al-Jazeera television that Egypt had previously agreed to work with Israel to forge new arrangements for reopening Gaza's crossing into Egypt.

Marzouk said a deal for the release of a captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit held in Gaza would be negotiated later, according to MENA.

Egypt has been trying to broker a prisoner exchange between Israel and Hamas. Hamas is holding Shalit, who was abducted more than two years ago in a cross-border raid from Gaza into southern Israel.

Besides mediating a truce for Gaza, Egypt also is trying to bring Hamas and its Palestinian rival, President Mahmoud Abbas, into talks on reconciling and forming a unity government that can move ahead with peace negotiations with Israel. Egypt hopes to host a reconciliation conference Feb. 22.

An Egyptian security official said Egypt had arrested a Palestinian who sneaked into Egypt through a tunnel from Gaza and was trying to purchase weapons in Egypt. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media, said the man and two Egyptians who were sheltering him were arrested in the coastal city of El-Arish on Wednesday.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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