Talks Begin in Cairo on Steps After Gaza Cease-Fire

Egyptian and Israeli officials began talks in Cairo on Monday on the cease-fire understandings with Hamas. But the process, marked by a degree of confusion that has already led to clashes along the Israel-Gaza border, remained opaque as officials in Israel and Gaza refused to comment.

Yasser Othman, Egypt’s representative to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, told the independent Palestinian news agency Maan that the talks were focusing on opening border crossings into Gaza, with Egypt mediating between Israel and Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls the enclave.

Israeli officials refused even to confirm that a delegation had arrived in Cairo. It was not immediately clear whether this stemmed from an agreement between the sides to maintain discretion, or if it was part of an Israeli effort to play down the idea it was making any concessions to Hamas.

The cease-fire deal, reached on Wednesday, brought to an end eight days of hostilities between Israel and the militant groups in Gaza during which Israel bombed more than 1,000 targets in Gaza and the militants fired more than 1,500 rockets into Israel, leaving more than 160 Palestinians and 6 Israelis dead.

It was agreed at the time that within 24 hours of the cease-fire, the parties would begin dealing with broader issues like easing restrictions on the movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza and allowing Palestinians more access to a buffer zone that Israel had imposed on the Gaza side of the Israel-Gaza border.

Israeli officials have confirmed that talks are to be held on those issues but have so far focused on aspects of the agreement that Israel considers beneficial to it: an understanding with the American backers of the agreement about a new international effort to prevent arms smuggling into Gaza, and the fact that Israel will be talking only to the Egyptians. The Israelis said they hoped that Egypt would also be part of the effort to stop the flow of weapons mainly supplied by Iran.

“We attach importance to the dialogue with Egypt,” one Israeli official, who was not authorized to comment publicly on the issue, said on Monday. “Hopefully we can positively engage with the Egyptian government, which is something that we view as a plus.”

“Easing the restrictions can bolster the quiet in the south and strengthen the longevity of the quiet, which is fragile,” he added. “It is easier for us to be forthcoming on civilian issues than on issues we see as strengthening Hamas.”

Over the past two years, under international pressure, Israel has eased its restrictions on the entry of goods into Gaza, but Israel still bans a list of materials that could be used for building weapons or fortifications. Export from Gaza to the West Bank or abroad has been extremely limited, with Israel citing security concerns because goods would have to pass through its territory.

Egypt has limited movement through the passenger crossing on its border with Gaza. In addition, Israel has maintained a strict naval blockade on the coastal strip, saying it is essential to prevent weapons smuggling.

Maher Abu Sabha, the chief of the administration of crossings in the Hamas government, said there had been no changes as yet at the Rafah crossing on the border with Egypt.

Israel has said it is willing to discuss all the issues. Citing the easing of restrictions over the past two years, a senior Israeli government official said last week, “In the absence of hostility and in an environment of peace and quiet, Israel has no problem continuing this process.”

Palestinians in Gaza have already been testing the Israeli limits, with farmers and demonstrators entering lands adjacent to the border fence, and fishermen sailing beyond the permitted zone. On Friday, a Palestinian man was killed and nine others were wounded by Israeli fire, according to Health Ministry officials in Gaza. The Israeli military said soldiers had fired warning shots and then at the feet of some Palestinians who tried to cross the border fence into Israeli territory.

In another incident on Monday, a Palestinian man crossed the fence into Israeli territory, entered a house in a nearby Israeli village and stabbed a woman, injuring her lightly, according to the military. Soldiers shot and killed the man as he tried to escape. The military said he had been acting in a threatening manner.

NY Times