U.S. President Barack Obama called on Israelis and Palestinians to extend a 72-hour truce set to expire tomorrow, as talks resumed in Cairo on a long-term agreement to end the Gaza conflict and rebuild the territory.
Egyptian mediators were meeting today with a delegation that includes members of the Hamas movement that runs Gaza and officials representing Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the Voice of Palestine radio station reported. Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations, told Bloomberg Television that Israeli officials are also in Cairo and “negotiating through the Egyptians,” though Israel’s government hasn’t confirmed their presence.
Israel withdrew troops from Gaza on Aug. 5 after four weeks of fighting that the military said sought to stop salvoes of rockets fired by militants at Israel and destroy tunnels they used to stage attacks. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in Jerusalem yesterday that the army is stationed outside Gaza, ready to deal with any cease-fire violation.
Obama, at a news conference in Washington, said that after extending the cease-fire, delegations must address the immediate consequences of the conflict and the underlying concerns of both Palestinians and Israelis.
“The U.S. goal right now would be to make sure that the cease-fire holds, that Gaza can begin the process of rebuilding,” he said. For a sustained peace, “the people of Gaza need to feel some sense of hope and the people of Israel feel confident that they aren’t going to have a repeat of the kind of rocket launches that we’ve seen,” Obama said.
In Cairo, Israel and Hamas are pressing for a permanent truce deal that addresses issues earlier accords didn’t resolve. Hamas wants to lift an Israeli and Egyptian blockade that heavily controls movement of goods and people into the territory, while Israel wants to eliminate the threat of future attacks by demilitarizing the group.
Germany, France and the U.K. have presented Israel with an initiative for the reconstruction of Gaza that includes international supervision to prevent the rearming of Hamas and other militant Palestinian groups, Israel’s Haaretz daily reported today. Netanyahu has said any rebuilding effort in Gaza must be linked to the disarming of its militant organizations.
Ezzat al-Rashq, a member of Hamas’s political bureau, told the Egyptian Al Shorouk newspaper that “disarming Gaza” is a “a red line” that his organization won’t agree to. Hamas is classified as a terrorist organization by Israel, the U.S. and European Union.
A Hamas leader, Ahmed Youssef, told Palestine TV that there may be a truce extension “in the next few hours.”
While Hamas is insisting its conditions for a permanent deal be accepted as a single package, it has agreed to delay talks on some issues -- including the reopening of Gaza’s port and airport, and a safe-passage for travel between Gaza and the West Bank -- an unidentififed Palestinian official in Cairo told the pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat.
The Gaza conflict has been the deadliest in the territory since Israeli settlers and soldiers left in 2005. At least 1,868 Palestinians lost their lives, the majority of them civilians, according to Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qedra. Israel says 750 to 1,000 militants were killed and that 67 people died on the Israeli side, 64 of them soldiers.
About a quarter of Gaza’s 1.8 million people were displaced by the fighting, in some cases taking refuge in UN schools. They’ve begun returning to find homes damaged or destroyed by Israeli missiles and shells.
Foreign ministers from Arab countries including Egypt, Jordan and Kuwait will visit Gaza in the coming days to assess what’s needed to begin reconstruction of the coastal strip, Arab League Secretary-General Nabil el-Araby said, according to the United Arab Emirates news agency WAM.
The Israeli military has urged citizens who left their homes near the border to return. “Just like it was quiet here before, it will be quiet again afterward,” army chief Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz said at a press conference near the frontier yesterday
Gantz also said that Israel doesn’t rule out future strikes on leaders of Hamas, the Islamist group that controls Gaza. “Anywhere that we are able to attack them, we will strike at the time of our choosing,” he said.