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Palestinians to quit Gaza talks if Israel no-show

August 10, 2014
Associated Press

CAIRO (AP) — Palestinian negotiators threatened to quit Egyptian-brokered Gaza war truce talks Sunday unless Israeli negotiators return to Cairo — the latest sign of the vast gaps between the sides on a new border deal for the blockaded territory.

Israeli officials have said their negotiators, who left Egypt on Friday, only will return if the rocket fire from Gaza stops.

Hamas has refused to extend a temporary truce that helped launch the Cairo talks last week, saying it wants guarantees from Israel first that Gaza's borders will open. Israel and Egypt have enforced the blockade, to varying degrees, since Hamas seized Gaza in 2007.

Since the truce expired Friday, smaller Gaza militant groups — though not Hamas, according to claims of responsibility — have fired dozens of rockets and mortar shells at Israel, including two on Sunday. Israel has responded with dozens of airstrikes on Gaza, including at least 20 on Sunday. Gaza officials said Sunday's strikes killed at least two Palestinians.

The diplomatic standoff, coupled with the ongoing cross-border attacks, signaled that a broader deal for battered Gaza, as envisioned by the international community, likely will remain elusive.

Israel has said it will not open Gaza's borders unless militant groups, including Hamas, disarm. Hamas has said handing over its weapons arsenal, which is believed to include several thousand remaining rockets, is inconceivable.

Various ideas have been raised to end Gaza's isolation, including deploying international inspectors at all crossings to address Israeli security concerns about smuggling weapons and militants. Europe has floated the idea of a link between ports in Gaza and Cyprus, with inspectors at both ends checking people and cargo.

Palestinian officials have said that Israel has so far rejected such proposals.

Instead, one proposal circulated by the Egyptian mediators over the weekend offered an easing of some of the restrictions, according to Palestinian negotiators who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to discuss internal deliberations with journalists. It was not clear if this was an Egyptian or an Israeli proposal.

Palestinian negotiators said they rejected the ideas, insisting on a complete end to the blockade. The Palestinian team includes Hamas officials and representatives of Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, from whom Hamas took Gaza in 2007.

On Sunday, Palestinian negotiators vented their frustration about the lack of progress and the absence of the Israeli team.

Azzam al-Ahmad, the head of the delegation and a confidant of Abbas, said the Palestinian team would leave Sunday evening if it becomes apparent that the Israeli counterparts will not return.

"If it is proven to us that the Israeli delegation is setting conditions for its return to Cairo, we will not accept any condition for the continuation of the talks," he said.

Palestinian negotiator Bassam Salhi, who represents a small PLO faction, said the team met late Saturday with Egyptian mediators. In the meeting, the Palestinians were told that Egypt is in touch with Israeli officials and hopes to make progress, Salhi said.

"We told the Egyptians that if the Israelis are not coming and if there is no significant development, we are leaving today," he said Sunday.

Israeli officials were not immediately available for comment.

The Gaza war erupted on July 8, following weeks of escalating tensions between Israel and Hamas.

Israel launched an air campaign on the coastal territory, sending in ground troops nine days later to target rocket launchers and cross-border tunnels built by Hamas for attacks inside Israel.

Israel has targeted close to 5,000 sites, the army has said, while Gaza militants have fired more than 3,000 rockets into Israel.

On Sunday, Israeli aircraft hit about 20 targets, the army said.

Gaza officials said a woman was killed and eight family members were wounded in a strike on a home in the southern town of Bani Suheila. A man was killed in a separate strike, on a house in the Jebaliya refugee camp, they said.

Navy gunboats fired at the Gaza fishing port, and fire erupted in the building where fishermen store their equipment, police said.

Gaza's civilians, especially children, have paid a steep price.

Of more than 1,900 people killed, at least 450 were children, according to Palestinian health officials. Children also made up almost one-third of close to 10,000 wounded. More than 10,000 homes have been destroyed, leaving some 65,000 people homeless, according to U.N. estimates. Tens of thousands fled fighting in the border areas, including heavy Israeli tank shelling, and are staying in crowded U.N. shelters.


Laub reported from Gaza City, Gaza Strip. Associated Press writers Maamoun Youssef in Cairo and Ibrahim Barzak in Gaza City, Gaza Strip contributed to this report.



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