Israel would lift Gaza blockade for truce — report

In negotiations being brokered by Tony Blair, Hamas said to offer a long-term ceasefire in return for naval passageway

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Israeli Navy soldiers seen on an IDF warship off the coast of Gaza, during Operation Protective Edge on July 28, 2014 (Edi Israel/Flash90)
Israeli Navy soldiers seen on an IDF warship off the coast of Gaza, during Operation Protective Edge on July 28, 2014 (Edi Israel/Flash90)

A leading Arab daily reported on Thursday that Israel has agreed to “entirely” remove its blockade on the Gaza Strip and establish a naval passageway between the Hamas-controlled territory and Cyprus, in return for a long-term ceasefire lasting seven to 10 years.

Quoting “trusted Palestinian sources,” the London-based al-Hayat said that the agreement was reached through indirect negotiations conducted by outgoing Quartet representative to the Middle East Tony Blair, a former British prime minister. According to the report, Israel has rejected a Qatari offer to fund a new Israeli airport in return for the reopening of an international airport in Gaza.

Reports of indirect talks between Israel and Hamas through European mediators following last summer’s war in the Strip have been confirmed by both Israeli security sources and Hamas officials. Hamas has consistently demanded the construction of a seaport and airport, as well as the release of dozens of the movement’s prisoners arrested following the killing of three Israeli teenagers by Hamas terrorists in the West Bank in June 2014.

But a final agreement between Israel and Hamas is still far off, the sources told al-Hayat.

Former British prime minister Tony Blair (AP/Matt Rourke)
Former British prime minister and Quartet chief Tony Blair (AP/Matt Rourke)

Sheikh Hassan Youssef, a Ramallah-based Hamas leader who endorsed a long-term ceasefire in an interview with The Times of Israel last week, said on Thursday that he had no information of the new deal.

“I heard about it this morning, but I can neither confirm nor deny,” he said in a phone conversation.

Blair finalized the details with Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal during a meeting in Doha, Qatar on Tuesday, the al-Hayat report said, noting that it was the second meeting between the two in six weeks. Blair, the newspaper argued, had resigned as Quartet representative in late May so as not to embarrass its constituent bodies — the US, EU, UN and Russia — which officially refuse to engage Hamas as long as it does not recognize Israel, reject violence, and accept previously signed agreements between the PLO and Israel.

Asked to comment, the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office did not initially provide a response to the report.

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