Israel prepared to ease conditions in Gaza to reach truce

An expanded fishing zone, easier passage for people and goods between Gaza and Israel and other concessions have been offered, a senior Israeli official says.

A cabinet meeting on July 31, 2014.
A cabinet meeting on July 31, 2014. Sitting: Ministers Yuval Steinitz and Moshe Ya'alon. Standing: Prime Minister Benjamin Netan... / Photo by Moti Milrod
By Barak Ravid and Zvi Bar'el
Published 03:08 12.08.14

Israel has agreed to ease conditions in the Gaza Strip during the Cairo cease-fire talks, a senior official in Jerusalem said yesterday.

While no final agreement has been reached, Israel is prepared to ease conditions in a number of areas beyond those agreed to after Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012, Israeli officials said.

They include:

1. Expanding the fishing zone off Gaza from three nautical miles to six. Israel made clear that if security conditions allow in the future it will consider expanding the zone to 12 nautical miles, as Hamas demands.

2. Easing passage for people from the Gaza Strip to Israel and the West Bank and increasing the number of permits given each month to 5,000.

3. Significantly increasing the number of trucks with various merchandise that can enter Israel via the Kerem Shalom crossing.

4. Israel is prepared to allow money to be brought into the Gaza Strip to pay the salaries of Hamas officials through a third country that is not Qatar or through the United Nations. The transfer of the funds will be monitored so it is not used to finance terror.

The official said Israel is not prepared to discuss Hamas demands to build a seaport or airport in Gaza. He said during the talks on easing the siege, the issue came up of returning the bodies of IDF Staff Sgt. Oron Shaul and 2nd Lt. Hadar Goldin, which Hamas is holding. Israel would be prepared to release a few dozen prisoners arrested during the Gaza operation in exchange for the bodies.

As for Israel’s demand to demilitarize the Gaza Strip, no breakthrough is expected. In Jerusalem. Talk on this matter turned last week to preventing rearmament or preventing Hamas from growing stronger, rather than disarmament of the Strip.

The security cabinet is to meet this afternoon in the prime minister’s bureau in Jerusalem to discuss progress in the Egyptian-brokered negotiations in Cairo for a long-term stable cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinian factions.

The Israeli delegation to the Cairo talks spent yesterday in Cairo and returned to Israel in the evening, at which point they reported to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon on the details of the talks.

Netanyahu and Ya’alon are managing the negotiations by themselves. The security cabinet meeting that is to take place today, the first in a week, will be the first chance ministers will have to hear details of the talks. A few of the ministers said yesterday that they do not know if a done deal will be brought to the meeting for a vote or whether they can still influence the components of the agreement in discussion.

At this point Israel is preparing for the 72-hour cease-fire to expire on Wednesday night and that without an agreement firing from the Gaza Strip will begin again. “If this happens we will respond more forcefully and it may even be decided to expand the operation and go back to a ground action,” a senior official said in Jerusalem.

Netanyahu and Ya’alon are said to be hoping that in light of Egypt’s tough stand against the tunnels in Rafah, Hamas will have difficulty obtaining the materials it needs to rebuilt the tunnels and manufacture weapons.

Meanwhile, an Egyptian source was reported saying that 95 percent of the problems raised in negotiations over a cease-fire with Gaza have been solved. The remaining 5 percent have to do with the construction of a seaport and airport, which Israel has rejected, arguing that these matters are linked to a final diplomatic solution between Israel and the Palestinians.

According to the Egyptian source, who spoke to the Egyptian daily Al-Shuruq, the Palestinian delegation also demanded the release of the fourth group of prisoners jailed since before the signing of the Oslo Accords – which was to have taken place in March under the terms of the Kerry talks – but Israel also rejected this demand. However, Palestinian sources said Israel had agreed in principle to release prisoners who had been part of the Shalit swap and were re-arrested after the kidnapping of the three teenage boys in June. But this agreement in principle, if indeed it exists, still does not appear in the drafts that are moving between the parties.

With regard to the border crossings, Egyptian sources say it has been agreed that all crossings between Israel and Gaza will be opened. However, how they will be monitored has yet to be settled – it has not been decided if monitors from the European Union would join inspectors to be appointed by the Palestinian reconciliation government. The Rafah border with Egypt will be discussed separately between the Palestinians and the Egyptians. Cairo has meanwhile announced that it intends to open the Rafah crossing for three days running, beginning today, to allow the passage of the wounded and the sick as well as foreigners.

Qais Abd al-Karim, deputy secretary general of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, said yesterday that a proposal was on the table to station 1,000 members of the Palestinian Presidential Guard along the border between Gaza and Egypt, and it seems that Hamas does not object. At the same time, Hamas political chief Khaled Meshal told the BBC that the cease-fire is a tactical step only, to allow assistance and medications to reach civilians in Gaza, and that if the talks fail, the “resistance” will act against Israel.

These reports indicate that the parties have not yet reached an agreement on the details of lifting the siege on the Gaza Strip, or on what kind and how much merchandise will be allowed in and out of the Strip. Nor is there agreement on overland passage between Gaza and the West Bank.

Moshe


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