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FM Ashkenazi to visit Egypt for Gaza talks next week

Israel’s top diplomat will discuss bilateral ties and future of Hamas-ruled territory with senior officials in Cairo

Minister of Foreign Affairs Gabi Ashkenazi talks to the media during a press conference after a meeting of the ministers of foreign affairs of Cyprus, Greece, Israel and United Arab of Emirates in city of Paphos, Cyprus, April 16, 2021. (Iakovos Hatzistavrou Pool via AP)
Minister of Foreign Affairs Gabi Ashkenazi talks to the media during a press conference after a meeting of the ministers of foreign affairs of Cyprus, Greece, Israel and United Arab of Emirates in city of Paphos, Cyprus, April 16, 2021. (Iakovos Hatzistavrou Pool via AP)

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi will visit Egypt early next week for talks on the recent ceasefire agreement to end fighting between Israel and the Hamas terror group in Gaza.

Ashkenazi will meet with his Egyptian counterparts to discuss strengthening bilateral ties and plans to rebuild the Gaza Strip following the devastation of the recent conflict.

Egypt was instrumental in securing the ceasefire that ended the 11-day military flare-up.

Other top Israeli officials will join the delegation, including officials from the National Security Council and the Defense Ministry’s Political-Military Bureau, the Haaretz daily reported.

Quoting a diplomatic source, the newspaper said the talks are aimed at advancing a joint summit in Cairo of officials from Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, and the United States.

Senior Hamas official Yahya Sinwar, who serves as the terror group’s Gaza governor, said on Wednesday night that Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh had been invited by the Egyptians to visit Cairo “in the coming days” as well.

Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry speaks to the media at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem on Sunday, July 10, 2016, during a rare visit to Israel (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Egypt hopes to hammer out an agreement on the reconstruction of Gaza as well as a ceasefire deal that would hold long-term and to discuss the return of Israeli civilians and the bodies of two IDF soldiers held by Hamas for nearly seven years, Kan news reported on Wednesday.

IDF soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul were killed in the summer 2014 war with Hamas, while civilian Avera Mengistu was captured after he entered Gaza of his own accord that same year. Mengistu reportedly suffers from mental health issues. Hisham al-Sayed, a second civilian, entered the Strip in 2015 and has been held there since.

According to the Kan report, an unnamed Egyptian military official traveled to Israel last week to discuss the initiative but no date for the proposed summit has been set. Kan further reported that Israel set two conditions for its agreement to attend: that talks with Hamas and the Palestinian Authority be held separately, and that each step in the Gaza reconstruction process be tied to the advancement of the return of the captives.

A composite photo of IDF soldiers Oron Shaul, left, and Hadar Goldin, right.

Israel has over the years worked to secure the release of the soldiers’ bodies and the civilians, often using the Egyptian military, which maintains ties with both Jerusalem and Hamas, as an intermediary. Hamas has sought, in exchange, the release of Palestinian security prisoners in Israeli jails — members of Hamas and of other terror groups. Some of the prisoners were freed during the 2011 prisoner exchange deal but re-arrested during a 2014 crackdown on the terror group in the West Bank following the abduction and murder of three Israeli teenagers.

Currently, diplomatic efforts are underway to solidify the fragile Egypt-brokered truce that halted the recent fighting, with plans to rebuild the Strip where Israeli airstrikes damaged infrastructure and leveled buildings.

Cairo has sent delegations to both Tel Aviv and Gaza to watch over the implementation of the ceasefire, and has also been coordinating international relief and reconstruction aid for the enclave, which has been under Israeli and Egyptian blockade for nearly 15 years to prevent Hamas from building terror infrastructure.

Palestinian volunteers sweep dust in front of a building destroyed during the latest round of fighting, in Gaza City’s Rimal district on May 25, 2021. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Egypt and Jordan on Wednesday, wrapping up a two-day Mideast tour that aimed to shore up the ceasefire.

After meeting earlier with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi — whom he praised for helping bring an end to the intense violence “relatively quickly” — he flew to Jordan, where half of the 10 million-strong population is of Palestinian origin.

Last week, Sissi pledged $500 million to help reconstruction efforts in Gaza.

Blinken said the US was in the process of providing more than $360 million in assistance to Palestinians. On top of $250 million announced in March and April, the administration intended to provide $75 million in aid to the Palestinians, as well as $5.5 million in immediate disaster assistance for Gaza, and nearly $33 million for an emergency humanitarian appeal by the UN.

Hamas political chief Yahya Sinwar vowed Wednesday not to take “a single cent” of the aid, insisting that “we have never taken a cent in the past.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken waves upon arrival at Queen Alia International Airport, in the Jordanian capital Amman, on May 26, 2021. (Alex Brandon/POOL/AFP)

Blinken met King Abdullah II following two days of regional talks — including with both Israeli and Palestinian leaders — to throw Washington’s support behind the truce.

“Securing the ceasefire was important, particularly because of the devastating toll violence took on families on both sides,” Blinken told reporters after meeting with the Jordanian monarch in Amman, his final stop.

“We see the ceasefire not as an end, but as a beginning of something to build on.”

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