JERUSALEM: Israel warned on Sunday it would not countenance any long-term truce deal that did not answer its security needs as Gaza ceasefire talks resumed in Cairo.
Egyptian-brokered indirect negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians are taking place during a five-day lull in the fighting which is due to expire at midnight (2100 GMT) on Monday.
The aim is to broker a long-term arrangement to halt over a month of bloody fighting which erupted on July 8 and has so far claimed 1,980 Palestinians lives and 67 on the Israeli side.
But as the Israeli team landed in Cairo, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said they would not agree to any proposal which did not offer a clear answer to Israel’s security needs.
“The Israeli delegation in Cairo is acting with a very clear mandate to stand firmly on Israel’s security needs,” said Netanyahu.
“Only if there is a clear answer to Israel’s security needs, only then will we agree to reach an understanding.”
The talks began on Sunday afternoon at the headquarters of the Egyptian intelligence in the absence of four officials from Gaza, among them representatives of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, who were expected to arrive during the evening.
It was the first time they had sat down since Wednesday after the negotiators returned home for three-days of consultations with their respective political masters.
Cairo airport sources said the Israeli delegation arrived mid-morning from Tel Aviv, and a Palestinian delegation from Ramallah flew in around the same time via Amman.
Hamas’s exiled deputy leader Mussa Abu Marzuk arrived from Doha.
In Gaza, although millions enjoyed a weekend free of the deadly fighting, residents are now facing other battles including the struggle to cope with a chronic water shortage.
“There’s no water here and the toilets are very dirty, this is no kind of life,” said Feriel al-Zaaneen who is sheltering at a UN school and hasn’t been able to have a shower in over a month.
Muntaha al-Kafarna, a mother of nine who has been living in a small tent in the school courtyard did manage to shower at a nearby hospital, but says her family is really suffering.
“My sons have caught lice and nits because they can’t shower here,” she said.
“I wish a missile would hit us, me and my children. Dying is better than this life.”
– ‘Basic human rights’ –
In Ramallah, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas reiterated his commitment to the Egyptian proposal.
“Our goal is to stop fighting and we are committed to the Egyptian initiative and nothing else,” he said.
In Gaza, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the Palestinians would not back down from their demands, central to which is a lifting of Israel’s eight-year blockade.
“There is no way back from this. All these demands are basic human rights that do not need this battle or these negotiations,” Abu Zuhri told AFP.
“The only way to have security is for Palestinians to feel it first and have the blockade lifted,” he said.
But Netanyahu warned that Hamas, which he said had suffered a major military blow, would not walk away from the talks with any political success.
“If Hamas thinks it will make up for its military losses with a political achievement, it is wrong,” he said.
With their demands seemingly irreconcilable, the Egyptian mediators have their work cut out to hammer out a deal that each side can present as some kind of achievement.
Palestinian delegation head Azzam al-Ahmad said he was quietly optimistic that an agreement could be reached.
“We have high hopes of reaching an agreement very soon, before the end of the truce, and perhaps even, very quickly, for a permanent ceasefire,” he told AFP.
– Two-stage proposal –
Talks are expected to resume on the basis of an Egyptian proposal, seen by AFP, which calls for a lasting ceasefire beyond Monday midnight, and new talks on the thorniest issues, including demands for a seaport and airport in Gaza, which will begin in a month’s time.
Negotiations about handing over the remains of two Israeli soldiers in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails would also be discussed in a month.
The European Union said a durable ceasefire must be accompanied by lifting closures on Gaza and called on “all terrorist groups” in the territory to disarm.
Israel refuses to countenance any major reconstruction effort without full demilitarization.