Washington (AP) - The United States and Israel signed an agreement Friday intended to assure that Hamas militants will not be able to rearm if the Jewish state agrees to a Gaza cease-fire.
In front of an array of reporters and camera crews, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and visiting Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni signed a "memorandum of understanding" to curb the smuggling of weapons into Gaza by boosting intelligence cooperation and border monitoring.
At the State Department ceremony, Livni described the deal as "a vital complement for a cessation of hostility" in the troubled region.
Livni said it could advance Israeli decision-making on the future of its offensive operations in Gaza. She added that it was meant "to complement Egyptian actions and to end of the flow of weapons to Gaza."
Under an Egyptian cease-fire proposal, fighting would stop immediately for 10 days, but Israeli forces would remain in place in Gaza and the border crossings into the territory would remain closed until security arrangements are made for the crossings. The aim would be to ensure that Hamas does not smuggle weapons into the territory.
The two-and-a-half page document outlines a framework under which the United States commits certain assets, including detection and surveillance equipment, as well as logistical help and training to Israel, Egypt and other nations that would be involved in monitoring Gaza's land and sea borders.
Rice and State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said that President-elect Barack Obama and Secretary of State-designate Hillary Rodham Clinton had been consulted on the details of the document, which was concluded late Thursday after frenetic negotiations designed to address Israeli concerns that Hamas would use a cease-fire to stock up on weapons.
To agree to a cease-fire, Israel is demanding a halt to Hamas rocket attacks into southern Israel and internationally backed guarantees that Hamas will not rearm by smuggling weapons into the tiny Mediterranean strip, which it has controlled since 2007.
Livni and Rice told reporters that they hoped European countries would work out similar bilateral agreements with the Israelis.
Speaking to reporters earlier, Rice said the deal "should be thought of as one of the elements of trying to bring into being a durable cease-fire, a cease-fire that can actually hold." The Bush administration has backed Israel throughout the crisis in Gaza, insisting that any truce be sustainable.
"As you know, there are a number of conditions that need to be obtained if a cease-fire is to be durable. ... And among them is to do something about the weapons smuggling and the potential for resupply of Hamas from other places, including from Iran," Rice said before the signing ceremony.
"This we see as part of a broader international effort on the information sharing" on how to deal with weapons shipments, she said.
AP Military Writer Robert Burns contributed to this story.
US, Israel Sign Deal to Boost Gaza Truce Effort