Palestinians in talks with US and quartet as Israel stays away

Cairo discussions sponsored by Egyptian president focus on basic ceasefire plan

A Palestinian woman reacts upon seeing the wreckage of her house in Beit Hanoun town at the weekend. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

A Palestinian woman reacts upon seeing the wreckage of her house in Beit Hanoun town at the weekend. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

Mon, Aug 4, 2014, 01:00

Palestinian representatives met US deputy secretary of state William Burns and quartet envoy Tony Blair in Cairo yesterday to try and end the conflict in Gaza.

Israel has boycotted the talks, sponsored by Egyptian president Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, who has put his personal imprimatur on a basic ceasefire plan that requires elaboration to meet the demands of the warring parties.

The talks were meant to begin once Friday’s 72-hour ceasefire had taken hold, but Israel stayed away after the pause in fighting collapsed following a clash between Israeli and Hamas units clashed near Rafah, on the Egyptian-Gaza border. The sides have accused each other of breaching the truce.

The Palestinian umbrella delegation, headed by Azzam al-Ahmed of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), includes Maged Farag, head of Palestinian intelligence; Mousa Abu Marzouk, deputy chief of Hamas’s politburo; Ziyad Nakhala of Islamic Jihad; and leading figures from leftist PLO factions, the Popular Front, the Democratic Front and the People’s Party.

Mr Ahmed, a Fatah official, helped broker the Palestinian consensus government formed last month by Fatah and Hamas.

An Egyptian source quoted by the semi-official daily al-Ahram said: “All factions seem to accept the initiative, except for Hamas, which still has reservations.”

Mixed messages

An unidentified Egyptian diplomat told al-Ahram that Cairo had been getting “mixed messages from Israel and we are not really sure what they are up to . . . they are telling us and the Americans that there must be future arrangements but [they suggest] they will not make a deal with Hamas”.

Mr Sisi has said there is “no alternative” to mediated talks on Egypt’s proposal, which has the support of the US and the quartet, comprised of the US, EU, UN and Russia.

He called on Palestinian factions to agree on indirect talks with Israel to achieve a ceasefire, followed by negotiations.

However, the parties have differing requirements.

Hamas calls for the opening of the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt to Palestinian passenger traffic and trade and an end to Israel’s siege and blockade.

Egypt – focused primarily on its own border – wants the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority to take over the Rafah crossing before restrictions on Palestinian movement and trade are lifted, and wants the consensus government to assume administration of Gaza, effectively ousting Hamas, which has ruled the strip since 2007.

Demilitarisation

Israel has called for the demilitarisation of Gaza as the price for reconstruction aid.

Adding his country’s weight to the effort to end the fighting, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi said in Cairo that Beijing backs Egypt’s proposal and calls for an immediate ceasefire, an end to the blockade of Gaza, and a prisoner release.

“All actions that involve excessive use of force and that led to civilian casualties are unacceptable,” he said.

At least 1,766 Palestinians have been killed and 9,320 wounded, 84 per cent of whom are civilians says the UN, since the start of the offensive on July 8th.

Two Israeli civilians, one Thai labourer, and 64 soldiers have also died.