Amid fears of renewed fighting, PM updates ministers on ceasefire progress

Amid fears of renewed fighting, PM updates ministers on ceasefire progress

Negotiations in Cairo ongoing, but defense minister warns that rocket fire could resume by Thursday

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon (left) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a cabinet meeting at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv,  July 31, 2014. (photo credit: AP/Dan Balilty, pool)
Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon (left) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a cabinet meeting at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, July 31, 2014. (photo credit: AP/Dan Balilty, pool)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu summoned members of the security cabinet for one-on-one talks on Tuesday, leading to speculation that Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in Cairo could be nearing a ceasefire deal.

The prime minister spoke with Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, Finance Minister Yair Lapid, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, and Communications Minister Gilad Erdan in private meetings to update them on the latest developments in the talks.

At the same time, though, military leaders, including Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, warned fighting could renew after the ceasefire expired at midnight Wednesday, and diplomatic officials indicated that disagreements remained between the sides.

“The gaps are still very wide. There has not been progress in the negotiations,” an Israeli official told AFP Tuesday.

The teams have been gather in separate rooms at the headquarters of the Egyptian General Intelligence and never see each other, with mediators shuttling between them with proposals and counterproposals, a source said.

Hamas official Moussa Abu Marzouk described the talks as “difficult but serious,” in a Facebook post.

Ynet reported that the deal forming in Cairo would see Israel transfer cash via a third party to pay the delayed wages of Hamas officials. Israel will also agree to extend Palestinian fishing zones up to six nautical miles from the coast. Building materials, under careful monitoring, would be permitted into Gaza. Israel is also also expected to agree to double the number of supply trucks bringing goods into Gaza to 600 a day.

A Hamas demand for the establishment of air and sea ports has not yet been agreed on but Ynet reported that the Palestinians may be willing to delay those demands if Israel agrees to all of its other requirements.

A member of the Palestinian delegation said some progress had been made Tuesday evening, reporting 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 Abbas’ Palestinian Authority to Hamas-affiliated government employees in Gaza. The cash-strapped Hamas has been unable to pay the salaries of its employees for months.

Also included in the purported Israeli package, the official said, was an eventual quadrupling — to 12 miles (19 kilometers) — of the sea area in which Gaza fishing vessels are permitted to operate.

Earlier Tuesday, Netanyahu canceled a cabinet meeting that was planned for today after the Israeli negotiating team in Cairo informed him that no progress had been made in the talks.

Army Radio reported that Netanyahu met with the ministers individually because they were irritated that the cabinet meeting had been canceled.

The meetings would ostensibly also be needed to shore up political support for concessions that Israel would likely agree to in the talks, and which hard-liners are likely to oppose.

During a visit to an Ashdod naval base earlier in the day Defense Minister Ya’alon said Operation Protective Edge isn’t over yet and the rocket fire from the Gaza Strip may resume.

“I don’t know if we will reach an agreement by midnight on Wednesday,” he told navy officers and soldiers. “The shooting could restart.”

Ya’alon said that if the rocket fire restarts, the clashes between Israel and the Gaza Strip will reignite. Israel will retaliate against terror targets and terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip might attempt to carry out an attack against Israel.

“We have to be alert and ready,” he said.

Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz warned that without a reasonable outcome to the talks, there could be another ground operation in Gaza.

“Either there will be a reasonable resolution of the situation in Gaza, or, if the fire resumes, we will have to consider… an expansion on the ground, overthrowing the Hamas authorities and the demilitarization of Gaza by ourselves,” Steinitz told army radio.

In New York, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern that the end of the ceasefire could lead to more fighting.

“The most recent ceasefire, brokered by Egypt, appears to be holding.  But that is not enough.  I strongly hope that a durable ceasefire will be reached soon,” he said.

In a post on his official Facebook page, Bennett reacted to the reports that Israel may agree to pay the Hamas salaries by saying the Palestinian demand to transfer money was a form of extortion.

“Let’s tell the truth: The money will be handed to the terrorists who dig [tunnels] under us, to rocket manufacturers and those who shoot at us,” Bennett said.

“It’s actually a diplomatic protection racket: pay us — and we’ll shoot at you later. Don’t pay us — and we’ll shoot at you now,” he wrote. “We can’t fight Hamas while funding it at the same time.”

AP and AFP contributed to this report.

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