Gaza talks to continue in Cairo as truce holds
By Mohammed Daraghmeh, The Associated Press
CAIRO - A temporary Israel-Hamas truce was holding for a second day Tuesday as marathon, indirect negotiations on a lasting cease-fire and a long-term solution for the battered Gaza Strip were set to resume in Cairo.
A similar, three-day truce collapsed on Friday when militants resumed rocket fire on Israel after the sides were unable to make any headway in the Egypt-hosted talks. Hamas is seeking an end to an Israeli-Egyptian border blockade of the Gaza Strip while Israel wants Hamas to disarm.
The Israeli military said no incidents between the two sides were registered overnight — neither Hamas rocket fire at Israel nor Israeli strikes in Gaza.
It said that early Tuesday a small Gazan fishing boat had violated an Israeli-imposed prohibition on going out to sea, but had turned around after an Israeli naval vessel fired several warning shots in its direction.
The monthlong Gaza war has killed more than 1,900 Palestinians, the majority of them civilians, Palestinian and U.N. officials say. In Israel, 67 people have been killed, all but three of them soldiers, officials there say.
The Israeli delegation returned to the Egyptian capital on Tuesday after a trip back to Israel.
A senior Israeli official suggested that the first day of talks had not gone well.
"The gaps between the sides are big and there is no progress in the negotiations," he said.
A member of the Palestinian delegation said that in Monday's talks, Israel had offered a number of concrete measures aimed at improving life for Gaza's 1.8 million residents, including an increase in the number of daily goods trucks crossing into the territory from Israel, and the free transfer of funds by the Palestinian Authority to Hamas-affiliated government employees in Gaza.
Also included in the purported Israeli package, the official said, was an easing in transit conditions between Gaza and the West Bank and an eventual quadrupling — to 12 miles (19 kilometres) — of the sea area in which Gaza fishing vessels are permitted to operate.
The official said that Israel was tying continuing Palestinian demands for the opening of a Gaza sea and airport to a verified cessation of smuggling, development and manufacture of weapons in the territory.
Last week's talks failed in part because Israel rejected Hamas' demand for a complete end to the blockade of the Gaza Strip, enforced by Egypt and Israel.
Israel says the closure is necessary to prevent arms smuggling, and officials do not want to make any concessions that would allow Hamas to declare victory.
The blockade has greatly limited the movement of Palestinians in and out of the impoverished territory. It has also limited the flow of goods into Gaza and blocked virtually all exports. Unemployment in the coastal territory is more than 50 per cent.
Hamas officials have since signalled that they will have more modest goals in the current round of talks.
Another member of the Palestinian delegation said that Egyptian officials told the delegation to expect "an extremely long negotiating session" on Tuesday — an indication that the talks may be about to enter a sensitive phase.
The Israeli official and the two members of the Palestinian delegation spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the talks with the media.
This round of Gaza fighting — the third, and bloodiest, in six years — escalated from the abduction and killing of three Israeli teens in the West Bank in June. Israel blamed the killings on Hamas and launched a massive arrest campaign, rounding up hundreds of its members in the West Bank.
Hamas and other militants then unleashed rocket fire from Gaza and Israel launched its air campaign on July 8. Nine days later, Israel sent in ground troops to target rocket launchers and cross-border tunnels built by Hamas for attacks inside Israel.
In a related development, a Turkish-organized group of human rights organizations said Tuesday they are organizing a flotilla of vessels that will attempt to breach Israel's blockade of Gaza later this year.
The Freedom Flotilla Coalition said it plans to sail to Gaza "during 2014." It did not specify how many vessels would participate, but said the flotilla was "a reflection of the growing worldwide solidarity with the Palestinian people; from the U.S. to Malaysia, from Scandinavia to South Africa."
The group organized two previous flotillas, in 2010 and in 2011. During the first, Israeli forces stormed the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara, killing nine people on board. The incident led to a breakdown in Turkish-Israeli relations.