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Palestinians and Israelis closer to agreement on Egyptian initiative: sources - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Palestinians walk next to the ruins of houses, which witnesses said were destroyed during the Israeli offensive, on the fifth day of ceasefire in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip August 18, 2014. (REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa)

Palestinians walk next to the ruins of houses, which witnesses said were destroyed during the Israeli offensive, on the fifth day of ceasefire in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip August 18, 2014. (REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa)

Ramallah, Asharq Al-Awsat—Palestinian sources in Cairo told Asharq Al-Awsat on Monday that Egypt was continuing to put pressure on both Palestinian and Israeli negotiators to accept a modified version of an Egyptian proposal to end hostilities between the two in Gaza.

Meanwhile, both sides agreed a 24-hour extension of the ceasefire currently in place, which was due to expire at midnight on Monday, to allow indirect talks in Cairo, mediated by Egypt, to continue.

The sources said Egypt refused to get involved in the disarming of Hamas and other factions present in the Gaza Strip, which is one of the Israel’s conditions for lifting the economic blockade of the territory. The sources claimed that Egyptian officials informed Israel that the issue would have to be negotiated in the final stage.

The amendments to the Egyptian initiative included an immediate and permanent ceasefire, and the opening of Gaza’s border crossings and coordination between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israel on their operation, with no restrictions on the goods allowed into Gaza.

They also included a gradual increase of the zone Israel allows Palestinian fisherman to operate, from six to 12 miles, while postponing discussion of the issues of the opening of sea and airports in Gaza, and the return of Israeli soldiers’ bodies, until a later stage.

According to the sources, Hamas initially rejected the idea of incrementally increasing the fishing area and demanded a clearer definition of the condition under which the crossings would be opened, but relented after received Egyptian and PA assurances that there would be no Israeli monitoring of the border crossing points.

The Israeli delegation reportedly agreed on the initiative in principle before returning to Israel to hold discussions with their government.

Palestinian sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, previously told Asharq Al-Awsat that Hamas demanded “new and surprising” amendments, such as the formation of a national body to help the PA in the administration of the crossings and the reconstruction of Gaza.

The sources said these conditions were not part of the initial demands of the Palestinian delegation, and that Hamas officials said “the PA is unable to take the responsibility of running Gaza’s reconstruction on its own.”

However, PA officials in Ramallah interpreted the new Hamas demands as “added evidence that Hamas only thinks about its interests and those of its allies.”

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the head of Hamas’s political bureau Khaled Mishal are expected to discuss the issues in a meeting in Doha on Tuesday. The Palestinian president was expected to arrive in Doha on Monday evening to discuss the reconstruction of Gaza, and persuade Hamas to accept the amended Egyptian initiative.

Abbas will also discuss these issues with the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad on Tuesday, and is then expected to discuss them with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi in Cairo on Saturday.

Wasel Abu Yousef, a member of the PA’s Executive Committee, told Asharq Al-Awsat on Monday: “The Egyptian initiative and the reconstruction of Gaza are the most important issues on the president’s agenda.” He added: “The president wants to end the aggression and protect our people in Gaza while Israel is trying to derail the talks.”

Abu Yousef said Israel linked its security demands to the signing of the agreement. He said: “Israel brought back the issue of disarming the resistance and the monitoring of the crossings, funds and construction materials. It wants an agreement in which it has the upper hand.”

Abu Yousef added that the Palestinian delegation rejected the Israeli demands. He said: “The disarming of the resistance is impossible. We said we will discuss the issue of arms once the occupation is removed from the whole of Palestine.”

Meanwhile, Israeli leaders continue to insist that Hamas and the other factions be disarmed as a precondition for the lifting of the economic blockade on Gaza. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said: “There is an opportunity at this stage to reach a new settlement in Gaza which should lead in the long term to the disarming of terrorist organizations and the return of the control of Gaza to the Palestinian Authority.”

Regarding Palestinian demands that Gaza be allowed to open sea and airports, Livni said: “It is not possible to choose parts of previous agreements without implementing other parts of such agreements, such as denouncing terrorism and violence.”