Palestinian negotiator optimistic about lasting truce as Hamas spokesperson says agreement only possible if Israeli side accepts all demands of unified Palestinian delegation
Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are set to resume indirect talks with Egyptian mediators on reaching a more permanent ceasefire before the current truce expires Monday midnight.
The Egyptian government persuaded both sides late Wednesday to adhere to a five-day ceasefire, extending an earlier three-day agreement in order to allow more time to thrash out a longer-term truce.
The truce began with a rocky start with Palestinian rocket attacks and retaliatory Israeli air strikes, but Saturday marked a sixth day of quiet following more than a month of fighting that has killed at least 1,980 Palestinians and 67 on the Israeli side.
Talks on Sunday are expected to resume on the basis of an Egyptian proposal which calls for a lasting ceasefire beyond Monday midnight and new talks on the thorniest issues, including demands for a seaport and airport in Gaza, to begin in a month’s time.
Negotiations about handing over the remains of two Israeli soldiers in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails would also be postponed, according to the document.
A buffer zone along Gaza’s border with Israel would be gradually reduced and guarded by Palestinian Authority security teams.
The European Union (EU) welcomed the ceasefire in Gaza, saying it was ready to expand a police mission in Rafah, on the border with Egypt, and train Palestinian Authority customs personnel and police for redeployment in Gaza.
It said EU police would monitor the transit of supplies needed for Gaza reconstruction and try to prevent smuggling of weapons into the territory.
The EU said a durable ceasefire must be accompanied by lifting closures on Gaza and called on “all terrorist groups” in the territory to disarm.
The Israeli foreign ministry welcomed the call for disarmament – Israel’s main demand at Cairo truce talks.
LIFTING THE BLOCKADE
Palestinian delegation head at Cairo talks Azzam al-Ahmad said Saturday he was quiet optimistic that an agreement for a longer-term truce could be reached.
Hamas Spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri struck a hardline note, insisting that there can be no return to peace without a lifting of Israel’s eight-year blockade of the beleaguered coastal enclave.
“We can reach an agreement if the Israeli side accepts all the demands of the unified Palestinian delegation, in particular the end of any aggression against our people, the war on Gaza and the complete lifting of the siege,” Abu Zuhri said.
With demands seemingly irreconcilable, the Egyptian mediators and both sides will have their work cut out to hammer out a wording that each side can present as some kind of achievement.
Israel refuses to deal directly with Hamas, whose charter calls for the destruction of the Jewish state, although Hamas is part of the Palestinian delegation that also includes Islamic Jihad and the Palestinian Authority of President Mahmud Abbas.