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Indirect Gaza truce talks with Israel in ‘advanced’ stages — Hamas

By Reuters - Aug 08,2018 - Last updated at Aug 08,2018

In this file photo, Khalil Al Hayya, deputy head of Hamas in Gaza, gestures during the Palestinian National Popular Conference in Gaza City on April 29 (Reuters photo)

GAZA/ OCCUPIED JERUSALEM — UN and Egyptian mediated talks on a deal to tamp down tensions between Israel and the Gaza Strip are in "advanced stages", a senior member of the Palestinian enclave's dominant Hamas group said on Wednesday. 

The remarks were echoed by a top Israeli lawmaker, suggesting a possible breakthrough after four months of confrontations that stirred mutual threats of war.

Gazans launched weekly, sometimes violent, border protests against Israel on March 30, their anger exacerbated by a grinding Israeli-Egyptian blockade and funding cuts by Hamas' rival, the Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. 

The Israeli occupational force has killed at least 158 Palestinians, while a Gaza sniper killed an Israeli force member. There have also been several, mostly bloodless shelling exchanges.

Neither Hamas nor Israel, appears keen on another full-blown conflict. But public demands by either side for a detainee release by the other appear to have been a stumbling block in securing a long-term truce.

“We can say that actions led by the United Nations and Egypt are in advanced stages and we hope it could yield some good from them,” Khalil Al Hayya, deputy Hamas chief in Gaza, told Al Jazeera television. 

“What is required is for calm to be restored along the border between us and the Zionist enemy [Israel].”

Israel has played down prospects for a comprehensive ceasefire, speaking in terms of a more limited quid-pro-quo.

In return for calm in Gaza, Israeli officials said on Sunday they would reopen a commercial border terminal that had been shuttered in response to the fire damage, and expand a Palestinian fishing zone.

Avi Dichter, the committee of the Israeli parliament’s foreign affairs and defence committee, struck a cautiously upbeat note on Wednesday. “I very much hope that we are on the brink of a new day on the matter of Gaza,” he told reporters. 

Neither the United Nations nor Egypt have publicly detailed their proposals for Gaza, beyond saying they should bring extensive economic relief for its two million Palestinians, many of them plagued by unemployment and failing public utilities.

Hayya said foreign donors were collecting “hundreds of millions of dollars” for electricity, water, health and job-creation projects in Gaza, but that these “require stability”.

Israel wants to recover the bodies of two members killed in the Gaza war, and two of its civilians who wandered into the enclave, in exchange for any far-ranging truce deal with Hamas.

For its part, Hamas demands that Israel free Palestinian security prisoners — a proposal that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right coalition partners balk at.

“We want to free our brave prisoners and we have no objection to beginning now,” Hayya said. “Let it be a prisoner swap deal, [Palestinian] prisoners in return for Zionist soldiers.”

Netanyahu called off a trip to Colombia this week to attend to the Gaza truce talks, and was due to convene his decisionmaking security Cabinet on Thursday to discuss the negotiations.

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