Israel rules out talks with Hamas on Gaza

Jerusalem - Israel on Sunday opted to unilaterally redeploy its troops in Gaza without the need for dialogue with Hamas, which the Jewish state has been battling since 17 July.

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni also appeared to rule out talks on long-term arrangements or even on a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, saying: "Hamas can carry on waiting".

Israel could not "trust Hamas, which has broken all the proposed ceasefires, including two which Hamas itself announced," said the minister, seen as a relative moderate in Israel's security cabinet.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said late on Saturday that he would act solely according to Israel's security needs.

"I don't plan on saying when we'll finish [the operation], we have no obligations apart from our security interests," he said. "We will deploy in the places convenient to us."

The security cabinet opted to leave Israel's chair empty at talks planned for Sunday in Cairo, where a Palestinian delegation arrived on Saturday night.

Delegates include the Palestinian Authority's intelligence chief Majid Faraj and six members of Hamas.

The Israel HaYom freesheet, seen as Netanyahu's mouthpiece, said: "The window of opportunity for a ceasefire with Hamas is now shut."

Army spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner confirmed on Sunday the unilateral but partial withdrawal of some Israeli units from Gaza.

"We are redeploying within Gaza, taking out other positions, and relieving other forces from within, so it won't be the same type of ground operation," he said.

"It's changing gear but it's still ongoing."

Public radio said army units had deployed in a 1km-wide band in eastern Gaza, setting up a buffer along the border, while other units had crossed back to Israeli territory.

Disarming Hamas

"The Israeli army should complete the neutralisation of Hamas's tunnels on Sunday and then redeploy to Israel," Israel HaYom said.

"The air force, on the other hand, will continue its raids if rocket firing goes on."

Netanyahu says that in the longer term, Israel will only allow destroyed neighbourhoods of Gaza to be rebuilt if there is an international commitment to a "demilitarisation" of the enclave, meaning the disarmament of Hamas.

Military radio's political commentator said Israel will block all cement and steel imports unless it receives assurance they will not be used to build tunnels for militants to launch cross-border raids.

Senior figures quoted by media suggest Israel is hoping to reach agreement with Egypt and the international community on a possible easing of its eight-year blockade on Gaza without having to talk to Hamas.

Netanyahu has made his position clear, stating on Saturday: "I of course prefer a diplomatic solution, but if there's no choice, we'll of course use all the means at our disposal."