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Middle East

Hamas leaders gather in Gaza to debate ceasefire with Israel, proposed by UN and Egyptian mediators

The flurry of diplomatic activity also seeks to end the 11-year split between Hamas and the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 August, 2018, 10:16am
UPDATED : Friday, 03 August, 2018, 10:16am

Top Hamas chiefs from abroad travelled to the Gaza Strip in a bid to decide with local leaders whether to call off four months of conflict with Israel and accept a ceasefire proposed by mediators from Egypt and the United Nations.

Salah al-Arouri, Turkey-based deputy head of the militant group that rules Gaza, and Mussa Abu Marzuk, another senior leader, crossed from Egypt to Gaza on Thursday for three days of talks, spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said in an email. Hamas is considered a terrorist organisation by Israel, the US and European Union.

The arrival of the Hamas leadership follows a flurry of diplomatic activity aimed at curtailing the violence between Palestinians in Gaza and Israel, while also trying to end the 11-year-old schism between Hamas and the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority.

Nikolay Mladenov, the UN special coordinator for Middle East peace efforts, has over the past two weeks been shuttling among Cairo, Jerusalem, Ramallah and Gaza to sell the ceasefire. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas sent Deputy Prime Minister Ziad Abu Amr to Gaza for the talks.

The aim of Al-Arouri’s visit is “to achieve an internal reconciliation and end the unfair Israeli siege that has been imposed on the Gaza Strip for 12 years,” Barhoum said.

Gaza, a tiny coastal wedge that is home to 2 million Palestinians, has been the scene of air raids, firefights and missile battles since the end of March when residents started weekly protest marches to the fence separating them from Israel. More than 150 Palestinians have been killed since then, many by Israeli army snipers. Palestinians have also sent hundreds of kites and balloons carrying flaming torches across the border, setting fire to Israeli farmland on the other side.

While Israel and Hamas say they don’t talk directly, speculation that a deal is in the works was heightened when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu abruptly cancelled a visit to Colombia planned for next week. The Security Cabinet will meet Sunday to discuss efforts to arrange a ceasefire with Hamas, Israel’s Channel 10 reported. Israel also approved the entry of six truckloads of equipment for water projects carried out by the US government agency, USAID, according to the Israeli Defence Ministry.

Israel has been seeking the release of two citizens held in Gaza and the bodies of two soldiers killed in a 2014 war with Hamas. Israel had to free more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in 2011 to secure the release of a single soldier held prisoner by Hamas for five years, but opposition to another such transaction has grown among the public and politicians, who say it incentivises Hamas to kidnap Israelis.

Netanyahu’s deputy minister for public diplomacy, Michael Oren, acknowledged that efforts were being made to halt the violence, without discussing Israel’s involvement.

“We always communicate through third parties,” he said. “There’s no viable solution for Gaza that does not involve Egypt.”