Egypt and Israel had high-level talks in the two countries on Sunday to consolidate a fragile truce between Israel and the militant group Hamas and rebuild the Gaza Strip after an 11-day punitive war that left parts of the l ruined seaside enclave.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukry received his Israeli counterpart Gabi Ashkenazi in Cairo on Sunday as part of Egypt’s efforts to relaunch the Middle East peace process and to “strengthen the ceasefire in Gaza, ”said the Egyptian Foreign Ministry.
Spokesman Ahmed Hafez said Shukry called for establishing an atmosphere to relaunch “serious and constructive” negotiations between the two sides. He also urged Israel and Hamas to refrain from “any measures” that could hamper efforts to relaunch peace talks.
The hour-long visit was the first public visit by an Israeli foreign minister to Egypt since 2008, the Israeli embassy in Cairo said. The ministers would discuss topics such as the ceasefire and the release of Israeli soldiers and citizens detained by Hamas, the embassy said.
“We will discuss establishing a permanent ceasefire with #Hamas, a #Gaza humanitarian aid and reconstruction mechanism with a central role played by the international community,” Ashkenazi tweeted upon arrival. in Cairo.
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Hamas holds the remains of two Israeli soldiers killed in a 2014 war. It also detains two Israeli civilians who were captured after entering Gaza.
As part of the ceasefire, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hosted Abbas Kamel, Egyptian intelligence chief, in Jerusalem. Netanyahu said he raised the issue of returning the remains of soldiers and civilians, as well as Israeli demands to prevent Hamas from reinforcing itself or diverting resources intended for the civilian population.
An Egyptian official said Kamel would also meet with Palestinian officials in the West Bank before traveling to Gaza for talks with Hamas leaders. The intelligence agency, which is the Egyptian equivalent of the CIA, generally manages Egypt’s relations with Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups in Gaza.
Egyptian news agency MENA said Kamel would deliver a message from el-Sisi to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, affirming “Egypt’s full support for the Palestinian people.”
He said Cairo would host talks between Palestinian factions to achieve unity between those in Gaza and the Israeli-occupied areas in the West Bank. The report does not provide additional details.
During a visit to the region last week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he sought to support Abbas and weaken Hamas as part of the ceasefire efforts.
Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip from Abbas’s forces in 2007, leaving the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority in charge of administering autonomous areas in some 40 percent of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Hamas, which refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist, is labeled a terrorist group by Israel, the United States and other Western countries.
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Discussions with Israeli officials focused on a package of measures that would allow the entry of materials, electricity and fuel into the territory, as well as the possible expansion of the maritime space allowed for Gaza fishermen, a said the Egyptian official.
“The role of the Palestinian Authority is central in the talks,” he said. “Egypt is seeking to involve him deeply in the reconstruction process. “
The Egyptian official, who had extensive knowledge of the procedures that led to the ceasefire, spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to brief reporters.
The 11-day war killed more than 250 people, mostly Palestinians, and caused extensive destruction in the impoverished coastal territory. Preliminary estimates put the damage in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Egypt played a key role in mediating an agreement between the two parties.
The official said Egypt has offered guarantees that reconstruction funds will not reach Hamas, possibly through an international committee headed by Egypt or the United Nations that would oversee the spending.
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Kamel also spoke about the situation in Jerusalem and ways to ease tensions in the holy city. This would include agreements at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, where Israeli police have repeatedly clashed with Palestinian protesters, and how to prevent the planned eviction of Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem, the official said.
Egypt last week invited Israel, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority to separate talks in Cairo to consolidate the ceasefire negotiated by Cairo and speed up the reconstruction process in Gaza.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh is expected to visit Cairo this week, according to group spokesman Abdelatif al-Qanou, who also said Hamas is open to discussing a prisoner swap with Israel.