Egypt holds Gaza truce talks with Palestinian factions

Reuters , Monday 4 Aug 2014

Palestinian groups, including representatives from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, held their first formal meeting in Cairo on Monday with Egyptian mediators hoping to pave the way towards a durable ceasefire agreement with Israel.

Talks focused on a list of demands agreed by the Palestinian factions on Sunday, including an appeal to Egypt to ease movement across its own border crossing with blockaded Gaza. It was not clear how far the talks would progress, however, after Israel declined to send its envoys.

Palestinian demands include a ceasefire, the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza, the lifting of the blockade on the area, the release of prisoners and the start of a reconstruction process, delegation members said on Sunday.

The talks began at noon (0900 GMT) under the auspices of Egypt's powerful intelligence service and lasted about two hours. Reuters phone calls to Palestinian delegates immediately after the meeting went unanswered.

Egypt's official MENA news agency quoted Palestinian sources as saying Egypt had promised to do its utmost to ensure the joint Palestinian demands were met.

Egyptian diplomatic sources said while Cairo might contemplate easing the limited freedom of movement across its border with Gaza, it was unlikely to accept Palestinian calls to allow a normal flow of trade.

Egypt insists that any discussion over the Rafah border crossing takes place bilaterally with the Palestinian Authority rather than as part of any overall deal between the Palestinians and Israel to ease the Israeli blockade, the sources say.

Egypt has long positioned itself as a mediator in successive conflicts in Gaza but has struggled to seal a deal in the latest fighting.

Media speculation that U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns would fly to Egypt to participate in indirect truce talks had not been borne out by Monday. A U.S. embassy official declined to say if or when Burns might arrive.

A U.S.-U.N.-brokered ceasefire proposal broke down within two hours on Friday, with Israel and Hamas trading blame.

Israel began its air and naval offensive against Gaza on July 8, launching ground incursion afterwards.

Gaza officials say 1,820 Palestinians have been killed and more than a quarter of its 1.8 million residents have been displaced. Israel has confirmed that 64 soldiers have died in combat, while Palestinian shelling has killed three civilians in Israel.

*This story was edited by Ahram Online.

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