Burns cancels visit to Cairo for Gaza talks

Dina Ezzat , Monday 4 Aug 2014

US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns had been expected in Cairo on Monday for ceasefire talks to end violence in the Gaza Strip

William Burns
William Burns, Assistant U.S. Secretary of State (Photo: Ahram)

Top US negotiator William Burns has decided to cancel a trip to Cairo, where he was expected to arrive late Sunday to join a visiting US team that is helping Egyptian negotiators reach a truce between Israel and Palestinian factions, sources told Ahram Online.

"He cancelled," said an Egyptian source. "We are not informed of a new date. It all depends on how things go."

According to this source and others who are following the Cairo-hosted talks, "the cancellation is only an indication that the deal is not in the offing – and in fact it is not in the offing".

Another official source has qualified the "positions" of the representatives of the Palestinian factions in Cairo as "more positive and more flexible than before – and indeed more flexible at this point than the positions of the Israelis".

Israel has insisted for the last two days that it will send a delegation to join the indirect talks but no Israeli officials have arrived yet. The negotiations in Cairo have involved phone calls to Tel Aviv.

One intelligence source said earlier on Monday that he had anticipated the arrival of "an Israeli envoy" – but the envoy had not arrived in Cairo by the late afternoon.

There is no single narrative for why the talks have stumbled. However, sources continually mentioned the gap between what both sides want.

For some, the gap is big – lifting the seven-year siege on Gaza and releasing prisoners as Hamas sees fit. For others, it is about Israel's demands to demilitarise the Palestinian resistance.

Are talks nearing a point of collapse? "It's too early to suggest this. Things are not as smooth today as they should have been, in terms of some of the positions expressed yesterday, but the window is not closed yet. It would not be accurate to say that it is closing," said one Egyptian negotiator.

What is accurate to say? He answered, "We are getting mixed signals from both sides."

According to another Egyptian negotiator, if the indirect talks fail to produce a joint agreement that would be "supported by the US, the EU and the UN and the Arab League once finalised", then there is "an idea for a document of the basic points of agreement to be drafted and offered for the acceptance, or rejection, of both sides. We will put them both before their responsibilities".

A Cairo-based European source, however, suggested that if the indirect talks continue to falter, the basic points of the agreement would be included in a UN Security Council presidential statement to be addressed to both sides.

Earlier today, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius – who has been very involved in the negotiations of a ceasefire – said that if Israel and Hamas fail to agree to a ceasefire then a deal should be forced on them by the international community.

A source at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva said that the world cannot keep silent "with a humanitarian tragedy of this magnitude in Gaza".


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