Israeli and Palestinian delegations have begun indirect talks in Cairo as an Egyptian sponsored 72-hour ceasefire holds in the Gaza Strip for the second day.
An Egyptian foreign ministry official confirmed to Daily News Egypt that an Israeli delegation arrived in Cairo on Tuesday evening. The cross-faction Palestinian delegation has been in Cairo since Sunday meeting with Egyptian intelligence officials and discussing their terms for a ceasefire.
Quartet envoy for the Middle East Tony Blair and the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry were also both expected to meet with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry in Cairo on Wednesday.
Egyptian foreign ministry spokesman Badr Abdelatty said on Wednesday that no details of the indirect talks were available.
The foreign ministry did release a statement clarifying Egypt’s position on the issues, stressing the need to “unify the Palestinian people”. The ministry emphasised that Israel, as the occupying power, has “full responsibility for the Gaza Strip”, adding that the air, land and sea blockade coupled with the closure of six crossings on the Israeli side is implemented “with the aim of trapping the sector and placing responsibility entirely on Egypt”.
The ministry said Egypt “seeks to fulfil its historical obligations” to the Palestinian people but must find a balance between “maintaining Egyptian national security… and trying to ease the blockade imposed on the strip by facilitating the passage of Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip through the Rafah crossing as well as the coordination of humanitarian access”.
Paul Hirschson, a spokesman at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said on Wednesday: “We want friendly peaceful relations with the Palestinian people and the Arab world.” He too had no further information on the talks.
The basis for the talks in Cairo is the Egyptian initiative which was first put forward on 14 July. Hamas rejected the initiative at the time, claiming it was not formally approached to participate, while the Israeli side accepted the terms. Hamas has said that it would not accept any agreement that does not include the lifting of the blockade on the Gaza Strip that has been in place since 2007.
The Palestinian delegation met earlier this week and formulated a “unified Palestinian position on a ceasefire in Gaza”, which was handed to Egyptian officials to be conveyed to the Israeli side.
The conditions put forward by the Palestinians include Hamas’ main demands of the full withdrawal of Israeli troops and lifting the blockade on Gaza. Other conditions include the extension of Gaza’s maritime fishing zone, the release of prisoners and reconstruction of the strip funded by an international donor conference under the supervision of the national unity government formed earlier this year.
The 72-hour ceasefire is set to expire on Friday morning however there is a possibility that the timeframe be extended, according to the Egyptian foreign ministry.