BEIRUT

Middle East

Lifting siege vs. disarmament clouds Gaza talks

A Palestinian boy sleeps at a United Nations-run school sheltering displaced Palestinians from the Israeli offensive, in Beit Lahiya town in the northern Gaza Strip August 12, 2014. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

CAIRO: Israeli and Palestinian negotiators held a second day of indirect, Egyptian-mediated talks Tuesday, seeking a formula for an extended cease-fire before a 72-hour truce ends at midnight Wednesday.

The delegations gather in separate rooms at the headquarters of Egypt’s General Intelligence and never see each other, with mediators shuttling between them with proposals and counterproposals, a source told AFP.

Hamas is demanding an end to a blockade that has ravaged Gaza’s economy. Israel says the blockade is needed to keep Hamas, which fired thousands of rockets into Israel during the war, from smuggling weapons. Israel wants guarantees that it disarm.

With the truce set to expire, Egypt pressed the sides hard to reach a deal.

“The talks are difficult but serious,” Moussa Abu Marzouk, a member of the Hamas delegation to the talks, wrote on his Facebook page. “The delegation needs to achieve the hopes of the people.”

Another member of the Palestinian delegation reported some progress, saying Israel had offered a number of gestures aimed at improving life for Gaza’s 1.8 million residents. They included an increase in the number of trucks permitted to deliver goods into the territory from Israel each day, and the transfer of funds by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority to Hamas-affiliated government employees in Gaza. Cash-strapped Hamas has been unable to pay the salaries of its employees for months.

Also included in the purported Israeli package, the official told the Associated Press, was an eventual quadrupling – to 19 kilometers – of the sea area in which Gaza fishing vessels are permitted to operate.

But the official said Israel was linking progress on the Palestinians’ biggest demands – to reopen the territory’s sea and airport – to Hamas disarming. The group has rejected this demand. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was discussing ongoing negotiations. Palestinian officials said they were open to extending the talks if progress was being made.

Israeli officials declined to comment on the negotiations. But in a possible sign of progress, the Ynet website said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had been speaking to senior Cabinet ministers about an emerging agreement.

It said the deal would include a softening of the blockade to allow the entry of construction materials for rebuilding Gaza under strict international supervision. Israel has limited the flow of goods like concrete and metal, saying Hamas would use them for military use.Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said he did not know if there would be a deal by Wednesday night’s deadline, and warned that fighting could resume.

“I don’t know if we should extend negotiations. It could be that fire erupts again,” he said. “We must be on alert and ready all the time.”

The month-long Gaza war has killed more than 1,900 Palestinians, the majority of them civilians, Palestinian and U.N. officials say. In Israel, 67 people have been killed, all but three of them soldiers.

Meanwhile, Britain said it would suspend 12 licenses to export military items to Israel, including tank, aircraft and radar parts, if hostilities in Gaza resumed, citing concerns the exports may be used to breach international laws.

Britain said last week it was reviewing all arms export licenses to Israel after fierce fighting which has resulted in heavy civilian casualties. That review concluded that 12 licenses would be temporarily suspended pending further investigation if the current truce breaks down and heavy fighting resumes.

“The U.K. government has not been able to clarify if the export license criteria are being met,” Business Secretary Vince Cable said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 13, 2014, on page 1.

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Summary

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators held a second day of indirect, Egyptian-mediated talks Tuesday, seeking a formula for an extended cease-fire before a 72-hour truce ends at midnight Wednesday.

Hamas is demanding an end to a blockade that has ravaged Gaza's economy. Israel says the blockade is needed to keep Hamas, which fired thousands of rockets into Israel during the war, from smuggling weapons.

Another member of the Palestinian delegation reported some progress, saying Israel had offered a number of gestures aimed at improving life for Gaza's 1.8 million residents.

The month-long Gaza war has killed more than 1,900 Palestinians, the majority of them civilians, Palestinian and U.N. officials say. In Israel, 67 people have been killed, all but three of them soldiers.


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