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Palestinian, Israeli delegations return to Cairo for talks
Published Saturday 16/08/2014 (updated) 17/08/2014 16:01
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Palestinian Fatah delegation chief Azzam al-Ahmed (C) heads to
second round of Egyptian-mediated indirect talks between Israeli
and Palestinian negotiators aimed at brokering to conflict in the Gaza
Strip, on Aug. 12, 2014 in Cairo (AFP Khaled Desouki)
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- Palestinian and Israeli delegations are preparing to return to Cairo late Saturday to continue indirect talks to reach a long-term ceasefire agreement before the current temporary truce expires.

The head of the Palestinian Fatah movement's delegation, Azzam al-Ahmad, told Ma'an that the new negotiations session would begin on Sunday.

Sources close to the delegation told Ma'an that there is a "real chance for ... a permanent ceasefire agreement after the five-day ceasefire ends" at 11:59 p.m. on Monday.

Islamic Jihad officials have said in recent days that the chances for a major agreement at the end of the five-day ceasefire are high.

Meanwhile, Ismail Radwan, a Hamas leader, said that the Islamist movement would refuse to delay talks on a seaport and airport as the Egyptian mediators had previously suggested, emphasizing that the re-opening of the two along with lifting of Israel's eight-year siege were key demands of the Palestinian negotiations team.

The Egyptian government persuaded both sides late Wednesday to adhere to a new five-day ceasefire, extending an earlier three-day agreement in order to allow more time to thrash out a longer-term truce.

It got off to a rocky start with Palestinian rocket attacks and Israeli air strikes, but Saturday marked a sixth day of relative quiet following more than a month of fighting that has killed more than 1,980 Palestinians --mostly civilians -- and 67 -- mostly soldiers -- on the Israeli side.

The Palestinian delegation has insisted that any long-term truce include the end of Israel's eight-year siege on the Gaza Strip, release of dozens of prisoners whom Israel has re-arrested that were released in 2011 as part of the Shalit exchange, re-opening of a seaport and airport in Gaza, and creation of a safe passage between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

The demands are consistent with the terms of the Oslo Accords signed between Israel and the Palestinians in the 1990s, but which Israel has failed to abide by amid its refusal to consider direct negotiations of any kind with Hamas, which it considers a terrorist group.

Israeli authorities have not directly responded to Palestinian demands but have suggested they would be open to easing the blockade, and previously stressed that a long-term agreement should include the demilitarization of the Strip.

Palestinian militant groups have scoffed at this demand, pointing out that it was Palestinian fighters who prevented the full-scale infiltration and re-occupation of Gaza by Israeli forces in recent weeks.

'Return to status quo is not an option'

The European Union welcomed the ceasefire in Gaza and said it was ready to expand a police mission in Rafah, on the border with Egypt, and train Palestinian Authority customs personnel and police for redeployment in Gaza.

"A return to the status quo prior to the latest conflict is not an option," said the Council of the EU on Friday following a foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels.

It said EU police would monitor the transit of supplies needed for Gaza reconstruction and try to prevent weapons from being smuggled into the territory.

A mission of 70 European police officers was set up at the crossing point in 2005, tasked with monitoring movements of people, goods, and vehicles at Gaza's only window to the outside world that bypasses Israel.

But it was suspended two years later after Hamas was elected to power in the Gaza Strip.

The EU said a durable ceasefire must be accompanied by lifting closures on Gaza and called on militant groups in the territory to disarm.

The Israeli foreign ministry welcomed the call for disarmament -- one of Israel's main demands at Cairo truce talks.

"Commitment to the principle of demilitarization, to be implemented by an effective mechanism, will insure a fundamental change of the situation," it said.

Israel has thus far refused to countenance any major reconstruction effort without full demilitarization.

Lifting the blockade

Azzam al-Ahmad, who heads the Palestinian delegation at Cairo talks, told AFP on Saturday he was quietly optimistic that an agreement for a longer-term truce could be reached.

"We have high hopes of reaching an agreement very soon, before the end of the truce, and perhaps even, very quickly, for a permanent ceasefire," he said.

But Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri insisted that there could be no return to peace without a lifting of Israel's eight-year blockade of the beleaguered coastal enclave.

"We can reach an agreement if the Israeli side accepts all the demands of the unified Palestinian delegation, in particular the end of any aggression against our people, the war on Gaza, and the complete lifting of the siege," Abu Zuhri said.

The Israelis have spoken little in public about the negotiations.

With demands seemingly irreconcilable, the Egyptian mediators and both sides will have their work cut out to hammer out a wording for each side to be able to present as some kind of achievement.

Israel refuses to deal directly with Hamas, although the Islamist movement is part of the Palestinian delegation that also includes Islamic Jihad and the Palestinian Authority of President Mahmoud Abbas.

Talks on Sunday are expected to resume on the basis of an Egyptian proposal, seen by AFP, which calls for a lasting ceasefire beyond Monday midnight, and new talks on the thorniest issues, including demands for a seaport and airport in Gaza, to begin in a month's time.

Negotiations about handing over the remains of two dead Israeli soldiers, allegedly held by Palestinian militants, in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails would also be postponed, according to the document.

A buffer zone along Gaza's border with Israel would be gradually reduced and guarded by Palestinian Authority security teams.

AFP contributed to this report.

Correction: An earlier version of this report said the five-day ceasefire was scheduled to end late Tuesday. In fact, it is set to end late Monday.
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1 ) Mel / USA
16/08/2014 16:45
Do NOT return to a WORSENING SITUATION,of Israeli "Jewish-only" racist,bigotted occupation & COLLECTIVE PUNISHMENT/WAR CRIMES.
There's no status quo for Zionists whose occupation/expansion doesn't STAND STILL but grows wider,more VICIOUS & HATEFUL of humanity & INTRNTNL LAWS.
There's no "status quo" for ALL Palestinians either.As Israel grows,Palestine SHRINKS & the Judeo-Nazism INCREASES.That's WORSE than status quo!
Accept ONLY PALESTINE'S FULL LEGAL RIGHTS & FREEDOMS!"LIVE FREE OR DIE!"

2 ) JoeFattal / USA
16/08/2014 16:58
Everytime Israel has a war with Hamas they just didn't knew how to wage the war without killing too many civilians in the process. Either because of their failure to target Hamas fighters or they purposely target civilians because of their failure to target Hamas. I believe the second is probably correct, they targeted more civilians. Hamas rocket launchers are mobile, they can move rapidily from one area to another which makes it very difficult for Israel to pinpoint their location. So what

3 ) JoeFattal / USA
16/08/2014 17:07
Cont....Israel does they target civilian population in the hope to get Hamas rocket launchers. An indifference from the IDF to civilians saying that Hamas hide behind their civilians to launch their rockets. Which they don't. Its a war that Israel cannot win, and by saying it cannot win I mean that Israel should have gone after Hamas in Gaza in their ground assault, but they rather do it from the air, and without boots on the ground its a self defeating victory for Israel.

4 ) Irael delayed till Sunday / the treat gains for HAMAS
16/08/2014 17:13
(Financial reward, stop of blockade, great support from Arab countries---basically great victory).....make it difficult for BIBI to explain to angry Israelis this battle Bibi said it is great victory for ISRAEL-- but the OPPOSITE IS TRUE!

5 ) Nobody cares. ISIS / grabs the HEADLINES
16/08/2014 17:37
ISIS is dominating the headlines, overshadowing all other events. The group’s gains in Iraq have diverted attention away from the Gaza War

6 ) Nasser / Morocco
16/08/2014 20:16
The Palestinian in Gaza are huma beings. They need access to oustside world througb Egyptian border, Gza harbor, and an airport. The ban on food, construction materials shoud be totally lifted.

7 ) Tanisha Nelson / USA
16/08/2014 22:43
Boycott everything about Israel. We stand united against Israel and every one helping this Illegal state. They have no business being in stolen land.

8 ) some one / some where
17/08/2014 00:17
#1 Mel as i said before why do not you go back where you come from in us we do not need idiot and destructive sect GO BACK you are not belong to here

9 ) Mike / USA
17/08/2014 05:04
Nassar Just admit that this about throwing Jews and Christians off "Arab lands " and Israel's destruction . The Muslim religious council under Israeli rule already has control of your holy sites. Arabs in Israel earn more than many of their Arab counterparts. How can Palestine demand open borders from countries they are hostile too. I truly feel bad for all of the innocents caught in the middle on both sides

10 ) JoeFattal / USA
17/08/2014 17:15
Israel needs to be aware that if Hamas lose or their demands are not met, even some of them it will create a vacuum that ISIS will take advantage of. They are not too far as it is. And believe me when I say that Natanyahu will regret it when he has to deal with ISIS on his own ground instead of Hamas. ISIS is growing in numbers and they'll be glad to tangle up with Israel if the chance is given to them.

11 ) suhail / south africa
18/08/2014 15:05
all israelies should leave and go to america palestine is for palestinians only there land was stolen and now they getting butched by the israelies tell all israelies to go to america they are the worst of all people who attack innocent civilians let us not forget of the 4 boys on the beach clear they are murderes they think they will live forever they dont know they will be judged by allah and this time allah is exposing all the hypocrites in the muslim lands allah is the best of planners and a
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