UN peace envoy ‘positive’ after talks with Egypt’s foreign minister on Gaza

UN peace envoy ‘positive’ after talks with Egypt’s foreign minister on Gaza

Nickolay Mladenov speaks of ‘productive’ day in Cairo, where he met with officials to discuss deescalation and resolving humanitarian issues in Hamas-run enclave

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov at a press conference at the (UNSCO) offices in Gaza City, September 25, 2017. (Adel Hana/AP)
United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov at a press conference at the (UNSCO) offices in Gaza City, September 25, 2017. (Adel Hana/AP)

The United Nations envoy for Middle East peace met Sunday with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and other officials for talks on calming tensions between Israel and the Palestinians, relieving the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip and reviving the long-stalled peace process.

After the meetings in Cairo, Nickolay Mladenov described the discussions on the prospects of peace between Israel and the Palestinians as “positive.”

Mladenov has been shuttling between regional leaders in an effort to defuse a sharp escalation in violence in Gaza before it explodes into full conflict.

The latest outbursts have followed months of near-weekly violent border protests organized by Gaza’s Hamas rulers. Deadly clashes along the Israeli-Gazan border have seen Israeli security forces facing gunfire, grenades, Molotov cocktails, and efforts — sometimes successful — to damage or penetrate the border fence.

In addition, Palestinians have on a near daily basis launched kites and balloons carrying incendiary devices into Israeli territory, burning thousands of acres of farmland and causing millions of shekels in damage.

The confrontations have at times spiraled into military exchanges, with Palestinians firing dozens of rockets at southern Israeli towns and the army launching air strikes on Hamas positions in Gaza.

Mladenov’s meetings “focused on the latest developments in the West Bank and how to avoid escalation in Gaza, resolve all humanitarian issues and support reconciliation,” he tweeted.

Mladenov said he was optimistic about the progress being made.

“A productive day of meetings with Egypt officials on our efforts to de-escalate the situation in Gaza, resolve all humanitarian issues and support Egyptian led reconciliation process,” he wrote. “The devil is always in the details but we are moving forward in the interest of peace.”

The talks in Cairo came after Mladenov recently met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Education Minister Naftali Bennett. Before heading to Egypt, the envoy also met with Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip.

Mladenov has been pushing a proposal he has for calming tensions in cooperation with Egypt and other Arab states, the Haaretz daily reported.

The arrangement envisions Israel removing recent restrictions on the Kerem Shalom crossing for goods into Gaza, and the sides agreeing to a ceasefire which would include the cessation of airborne arson attacks, the report said, citing Egyptian media.

Negotiations would follow for the return of the remains of two IDF soldiers’ bodies held in Gaza in exchange for advancing humanitarian projects financed by the international community. The report did not mention if two Israeli citizens, who crossed into Gaza of their own accord and are believed to be held by Hamas, would also be included in the proposals.

Israel has struggled to defeat the incendiary attacks and earlier this month imposed restrictions on the transfer of goods into Gaza via the Keream Shalom border crossing which is the main conduit for supplies into Gaza. Before the restrictions, hundreds of trucks a day would carry goods from Israeli ports into Gaza.

Gaza suffers from a serious shortage in sanitation services, electric power, and drinking water. The coastal enclave’s problems have been made worse by an ongoing rift between the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority and its rivals, terror group Hamas, which seized control of Gaza in 2007.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry prepares to take a question during press conference following talks in Moscow, Russia, May 14, 2018. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP)

Last week Mladenov reached an agreement with the World Bank to increase funding for Gaza to $90 million for the year, compared to $55 in 2017.

Also last week Mladenov reported to the UN Security Council that the past month had seen the most serious escalation in violence between Israel and the Gaza Strip since the summer 2014 conflict. At one point he said, Israel and Hamas were “minutes away” from another “devastating confrontation.”

According the Hamas health ministry’s figures, over 150 Palestinians have been killed since the start of the mass “March of Return” protests on March 30. Israel says most of the dead were terror operatives. Jerusalem has accused Hamas of using the clashes to attempt to breach the border fence and carry out attacks, and Hamas, which seeks to destroy Israel, has acknowledged many of those killed were its members.

One Israeli Defense Forces soldier has been killed by a Palestinian sniper and one has been moderately wounded.

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