Two sides close in on five-day truce

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - BY ANSHEL PEFFFER

ANOTHER ROUND of es­ca­la­tion around Gaza ap­peared to have been averted at the last minute on Wed­nes­day as ne­go­tia­tors in Cairo re­port­edly agreed to ex­tend an ex­pir­ing cease­fire un­til Mon­day night.

How­ever, the Prime Min­is­ter’s Of­fice in Jerusalem had not con­firmed the deal as the JC went to press, and rock­ets con­tin­ued to be fired from Gaza.

Both Egypt and Is­rael have re­fused to open up the cross­ings into Gaza be­fore the Fatah-dom­i­nated PA is pre­pared to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for in­spect­ing goods taken over the border.

Ha­mas is still anx­ious to present the Pales­tinian pub­lic with a tan­gi­ble achieve­ment af­ter fail­ing to in­flict sig­nif­i­cant dam­age on Is­rael in the last round of war­fare. The fight­ing has cost Gaza a re­ported 1,900 deaths and thou­sands of de­stroyed build­ings.

At the Cairo talks, be­ing con­ducted by Egyp­tian in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cers with the Is­raeli and Pales­tinian del­e­ga­tions in sep­a­rate rooms, Ha­mas has de­mand- ed that any agree­ment con­tain a clear state­ment on the end of the block­ade of Gaza. How­ever, while Egypt and Is­rael have agreed in prin­ci­ple to ease the re­stric­tions on im­port­ing goods to Gaza and to al­low the pas­sage of peo­ple, they have re­fused to per­mit un­re­stricted move­ments of build­ing mater i al s . While these ma­te­ri­als are needed for re­buildi ng, I s r a e l i and Egyp­tian officials have in­sisted on an mech­a­nism that will not al­low Ha­mas to use them for mil­i­tary pur­poses.

Another sub­stan­tial is­sue the two sides have failed to agree on is whether the body parts of two IDF soldiers killed dur­ing the op­er­a­tion, Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, should be ex­changed for Pales­tinian pris­on­ers.

Is­rael pro­posed re­leas­ing Pales­tini­ans it de­tained in Gaza dur­ing the op­er­a­tion, but Ha­mas is also de­mand- ing the re­lease of op­er­a­tives ar­rested two months ago fol­low­ing the mur­der of three Is­raeli teenagers.

Fail­ing to re­solve these is­sues — as well as other de­mands by the Pales­tini­ans, such as build­ing a sea­port and an air­port in Gaza — will jeopardise all fu­ture talks.

Last week, as a 72-hour cease­fire ran out on Thurs­day night, Pales­tinian or­gan­i­sa­tions in Gaza re­sumed mor­tar and rocket fire on Is­raeli civil­ian tar­gets. In re­tal­i­a­tion, Is­rael car­ried out air-strikes against Ha­mas.

A new cease­fire was agreed on Sun­day night but, as the talks in Cairo con­tin­ued through­out the week, the IDF called up new re­serve units to pre­serve its high level of readi­ness.

If and when when the ne­go­tia­tors reach a longer-term deal, both sides will find it hard to rat­ify. Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu is only as­sured of the sup­port of his de­fence min­is­ter Moshe Yaalon in cabi­net. Even cen­trist min­is­ter Yair Lapid said on Wed­nes­day that his vote in favour of an agree­ment “should not be taken for granted”.

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