Hamas negotiators stopped with suitcases of cash

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CAIRO — Hamas negotiators left Egypt without a long-term cease-fire with Israel on Thursday _ but not before some members of the militant group's delegation were stopped at the Gaza border carrying millions in cash.

The delegation walked away from the cease-fire talks because of disagreements over the blockage on Gaza and border security. Talks will continue at a later date.

An Egyptian security official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said the group initially refused to be searched by Egyptian authorities at the Rafah border crossing. When the group relented, authorities found $7 million and 2 million euros ($2.5 million) in cash in their suitcases. Another security official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said $9 million and 2 million euros were found. The discrepancy could not be immediately explained.

The money was later deposited in an account in Egypt by a Hamas member who stayed behind while the rest of the delegation was allowed to return to Gaza, the second security official said. He later returned to Gaza, the second official said.

It was not clear what would happen to the money.

There was no immediate comment from Hamas.

The incident is a sensitive one for Egypt, particularly now, when Israel is demanding a halt to Hamas smuggling into Gaza as part of truce negotiations.

Israel and Hamas do not talk directly, so Egypt has been mediating the talks on solidifying the shaky cease-fire that went into effect on Jan. 18, ending Israel's three-week offensive on Gaza.

Egypt had set Thursday as an expected date for reaching a long-term truce deal.

But a Hamas official, Mohammed Nasr, said Thursday that differences over opening the border crossings into Gaza were preventing the deal. Nasr was part of the negotiating team that left Cairo, but he is from the Syria arm of Hamas and not the group returning to Gaza.

Hamas demands that any truce include the full opening of borders into Gaza, which Israel and Egypt have largely kept sealed since Hamas seized control of the territory from Palestinian rivals Fatah in 2007. Hamas also wants a role in administering the border crossings in recognition of its power in Gaza.

Israel says it will not ease the blockade of the densely populated and impoverished coastal strip without international guarantees Hamas will be prevented from smuggling more weapons into Gaza. It does not want Hamas to have a role in controlling Gaza's border crossings.

Nasr said smuggling would only stop if the borders were open.

"The main point revolves around us getting a clear and honest commitment to lift the blockade completely. We still didn't get that," Nasr told The Associated Press before leaving to Damascus. "We have no agreement until we have an agreement on everything."

He said his group is expecting answers from the Israelis on the border issue. His comments came as Israel's point man on the negotiations arrived in Egypt for talks.

The deputy head of Hamas, Moussa Abu Marzouk, told the AP by telephone from Damascus that talks have failed so far because of what he called "Israeli stubbornness and setting new conditions at each stage."

He said Israel said it would open the crossings by 70 percent without giving Hamas details how this percentage would be defined.

Hamas has smuggled money into Gaza before.

In 2006, a senior Hamas official bragged about successfully carrying $42 million across the border.

Arab banks have generally refused to transfer money to Gaza for fear of running afoul of the United States, which considers Hamas a terrorist organization. The money has helped keep afloat the Hamas government, which is generally shunned by foreign governments.

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Associated Press writers Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria, and Ashraf Sweilam in Rafah, Egypt, contributed to this report.

(This version CORRECTS spelling of Moussa Abu Marzouk))