Israel's FM Tells Egyptian Counterpart Gaza Aid Tied to Return of Israelis Held by Hamas

Gabi Ashkenazi makes first trip to Egypt by an Israeli foreign minister since 2008 to discuss Gaza reconstructions and efforts to plan a joint summit involving Palestinian officials

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Gabi Ashkenazi (L) meets with Sameh Shoukry in Cairo, Sunday.
Gabi Ashkenazi (L) meets with Sameh Shoukry in Cairo, Sunday.Credit: AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi met with his Egyptian counterpart in Cairo on Sunday, in the first such meeting since 2008, amid efforts to secure a long-term cease-fire in Gaza and organize a future summit with the participation of Palestinian officials.

In his meeting with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, Ashkenazi said they discussed ways to ensure stability in Gaza, bilateral relations and "the duty to block any attempt to harm regional stability by terror organization and radical bodies like Iran and its proxies."

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Ashenazi told Shoukry that Israel "won't allow the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip let Hamas rebuild its terror capabilities, without resolving the issue of the return of Israeli MIAs and civilians" believed to be held by Hamas.

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Ashkenazi's trip to Cairo is the first official visit to Egypt by an Israeli foreign minister since 2008, and comes days after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met top officials in Cairo during a Middle East trip aimed at shoring up the recent cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.

Ashkenazi was expected to discuss plans for reconstruction in the Gaza Strip and request Egyptian involvement in ensuring that the Rafah crossing on the Egyptian border is not used by Hamas to smuggle materials is can use for military purposes, but these issues were not mentioned specifically in a brief press release issued by his office after the meeting.

Ashkenazi also warned Shoukry against what he called "ongoing incitement" by the Palestinian Authority, including their calls for international action against Israel's policies at the International Criminal Court and the United Nations' Human Rights Council, which the Israeli foreign minister argued "are an obstacle to political discourse and confidence-building measures."

Israeli officials believe that the international supervision of goods entering Gaza through the Kerem Shalom border crossing is insufficient, and therefore Egyptian involvement will be required by Israel to monitor goods passing through the Rafah crossing, on Egypt's border.

Also on Sunday, the head of the Egyptian General Intelligence, Abbas Kamel, visited Jerusalem and Ramallah for discussions with Israeli and Palestinian Authority officials.

Hussein Al Sheikh, a member of the central committee for Fatah, who also serves as an advisor to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, tweeted that Kamel will meet with the Palestinian leadership to discuss the recent escalation in Gaza, outbreak of violence in Jerusalem, plans for reconstructing the Gaza Strip, and internal Palestinian issues.

Meanwhile, the Defense Ministry said Defense Minister Benny Gantz spoke on Friday with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin about the possibility of a long-term cease-fire in Gaza. 

On Wednesday, Blinken announced that Washington will transfer $38 million in humanitarian aid to Gaza and the West Bank.

The U.S. plans to add another $75 million in aid earmarked for economic development, on top of the $250 million in aid for the Palestinians, which was announced in March.

On Sunday, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said that he planned to make the return of two Israeli civilians held captive by Hamas and the remains of two Israeli soldiers a condition of the delivery of all but humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip.

Tor Wennesland, UN special coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, gave an overview of humanitarian aid entering Gaza to the Security Council on Thursday, saying that immediately after the cease-fire was declared Israel allowed the entry of 40 trucks loaded with humanitarian goods into Gaza, including over 46,000 coronavirus vaccines. Reconstruction efforts have so far focused on fixing water and sewer systems that were damaged during the recent fighting. Authorities in Gaza have meanwhile told the UN that the local power plant, which is the main source of the enclave's electricity, is currently able to provide an average of five hours of power a day. 

Yaniv Kubovich contributed to this report. 

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