Gaza ceasefire talks may resume Wednesday

Palestinian, Egyptian officials say indirect negotiations between Israel, Hamas to restart on Rosh Hashanah eve

Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal arrives for a meeting with Tunisian president Moncef Marzouki at the Carthage presidential palace on the outskirts of Tunis on September 12, 2014. (Photo credit: AFP/ SALAH HABIBI)
Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal arrives for a meeting with Tunisian president Moncef Marzouki at the Carthage presidential palace on the outskirts of Tunis on September 12, 2014. (Photo credit: AFP/ SALAH HABIBI)

Indirect talks between Israeli and Palestinian delegations on the ceasefire in the Gaza Strip will resume on Wednesday in Cairo, Palestinian and Egyptian officials said on Saturday.

But Wednesday also marks the beginning of the Jewish High Holidays with Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) celebrations starting that evening, so Israel may not accept that date.

In late August, both sides agreed a ceasefire that ended 50 days of deadly conflict and provided for a resumption of negotiations within a month to discuss unresolved issues.

These include the construction of a port and restoring the territory’s airport, and exchanging Palestinian prisoners for the remains of Israeli soldiers.

“Egypt has invited Palestinian and Israeli delegations to resume talks in Cairo on September 24,” a Palestinian official said Saturday.

An Egyptian official confirmed the date and added that Fatah, which dominates the Palestinian Authority headed by President Mahmoud Abbas, and Hamas had been invited to meet on Monday.

Last week, Hamas’s exiled political chief Khaled Mashaal said Israel understood only force, prompting Israeli officials to question whether the indirect talks would resume at all.

Mashaal had ruled out face-to-face dealings with the Israelis a day earlier.

“Direct negotiations with the Israeli occupier are not on the agenda of Hamas; if negotiations are necessary they must be indirect,” he said.

Israel has only negotiated directly with Abbas’s Palestinian Authority. Backed by the so-called Middle East Quartet of the US, EU, UN and Russia, it demands that Hamas recognize Israel, accept previous agreements and renounce terrorism as preconditions for direct negotiations with the Islamist group.

Mashaal also rejected Israeli demands that Gaza reconstruction be linked to the disarmament of Hamas and Gaza-based Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh restated that line.

Fifty days of deadly fighting between Israel and terrorists in Gaza that killed approximately 2,100 Palestinians — about 1,000 of them combatants, Israel says — and 72 Israelis, ended on August 26 with an open-ended truce agreement. Israel said it would ease restrictions on movement of personnel and goods through the two crossings into Gaza which it controls, but core issues of dispute were set to be negotiated in indirect talks in Cairo after a month.

Under the terms of the deal, the parties agreed to resume the Egyptian-brokered negotiations to discuss, among other issues, a Hamas demand for a port and an airport, a prisoner swap and Israel’s insistence on Gaza terrorists disarming. Israel has ruled out removing controls over access to Gaza, as has Egypt, unless or until Hamas disarms, which Hamas refuses to do. Hamas, designated a terrorist group by Israel and much of the international community, seized control of Gaza in a violent coup against the Palestinian Authority in 2007.

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