Palestinian leaders, including senior Hamas officials headed by political bureau chief Ismail Haniyeh and a delegation from the President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement, arrived in Cairo Tuesday to hold talks with top Egyptian officials, including Egypt's intelligence chief Abbas Kamel, to consolidate Israel's cease-fire with Hamas.
This is the highest-ranking delegation Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, has sent to the Egyptian capital since the Islamist movement reached a truce with Israel in May, brokered after 11 days of fighting.
Palestinians view Haniyeh's visit as very important as it comes swiftly after Kamel's visit to Gaza last week and the talks he held with Israel, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. Haniyeh's visit came in response to a special invitation from Cairo, in advance of a broader meeting of Palestinian factions that could begin as early as next week, Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said.
Jibril Rajoub, a senior figure from Abbas's Fatah movement, which runs the Palestinian Authority and exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank, was also expected to meet Egyptian officials, Palestinian and Egyptian sources said.
An Egyptian source told Haaretz that Kamel's decision to visit Ramallah before Gaza is a signal that Cairo views the Palestinian Authority as the official representative of the Palestinians.
Palestinian sources say the talks will focus on stabilizing the cease-fire, reconstructing the Gaza Strip, returning Israeli civilians and the bodies of Israeli soldiers held captive in Gaza, and resolving internal Palestinian disputes.
The Palestinian and Egyptian sources did not say whether the delegations from the rival Palestinian groups would meet each other.
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During a Tuesday meeting of his cabinet in Ramallah, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said he hopes Cairo's mediation will "close the page on (internal) division (and) help our people in Gaza ... in a way that enhances our national unity."
During Kamel's visit to Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stressed the importance of returning the Israeli citizens Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, as well as the bodies of missing Israeli soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oren Shaul.
The leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Yahya Sinwar, has since said he is ready to negotiate on the issue. Sinwar said there had been recent progress with negotiations, but political instability in Israel stalled advancing any talks.
Sources in Cairo added that the parties involved want to reach agreements before the possible end of Netanyahu's tenure, as the Egyptians do not want to start negotiations from scratch with a new prime minister.
Reuters contributed to this report.