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Wednesday 17 September 2014

Egypt appeals for ceasefire in Gaza as fighting rages on

Yasmine Saleh

Published 24/08/2014 | 02:30

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A ball of fire and smoke rise from an explosion on al-Zafer apartment tower following an Israeli air strike in Gaza City, in the northern Gaza Strip, collapsing the building, sending a huge fireball into the sky and wounding at least 22 people, including 11 children, witnesses and Palestinian officials said (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
A ball of fire and smoke rise from an explosion on al-Zafer apartment tower following an Israeli air strike in Gaza City, in the northern Gaza Strip, collapsing the building, sending a huge fireball into the sky and wounding at least 22 people, including 11 children, witnesses and Palestinian officials said (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (R) meets with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the Presidential Palace in Cairo
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (R) meets with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the Presidential Palace in Cairo
Smoke rises following what witnesses said were Israeli air strikes in Gaza
Smoke rises following what witnesses said were Israeli air strikes in Gaza

Egypt has called for an open-ended ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, urging Israel and Hamas to return to indirect talks after seven weeks of fighting punctuated by a number of failed truce attempts.

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The call from the foreign ministry came shortly after Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in Cairo. Egyptian officials did not say how they expected renewed talks to produce a different outcome after repeated failures.

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev had no immediate comment. Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesman for Gaza's ruling Hamas, said the group would consider the Egyptian appeal, but there was no sign it would budge from longstanding demands.

Meanwhile, senior Hamas officials said the group has signed a pledge to back any Palestinian bid to join the International Criminal Court.

Such written consent increases already strong domestic pressure on Abbas to take such a step. Palestinian acceptance of the court's jurisdiction could expose Hamas and Israel to war crimes investigations.

The Egyptian ceasefire call reflects Cairo's belief that it holds the key to ending the Gaza war and brokering a broader border deal for the territory. Israel and Egypt have severely restricted trade and travel in and out of Gaza since Hamas seized the territory from Abbas in 2007.

Israel and Abbas back Egyptian mediation efforts. However, Hamas remains sceptical, largely because of the Egyptian government's hostility both to it and to Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, with which Hamas is ideologically linked.

An Egyptian proposal for a long-term truce included giving Abbas a role in supervising border crossing points where movement would gradually be eased. Abbas would also administer a proposed multi-billion euro Gaza reconstruction programme. However, the proposal lacked any detailed Israeli commitments, and Hamas rejected it, demanding a lifting of the blockade.

The Egyptian-brokered talks and a temporary cease-fire collapsed earlier this week, and fighting has persisted since then.

Yesterday, an airstrike on a house in central Gaza killed two women, two children and a man, according to medics at the Red Crescent.

More than 2,090 Palestinians, including close to 500 children, have been killed since the Gaza war began on July 8, according to Palestinian officials and UN figures.

Israel has lost 64 soldiers and four civilians, including a four-year-old boy killed by a mortar shell last Friday. The UN says three-quarters of those killed in Gaza have been civilians.

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu blamed Hamas for the collapse of the most recent ceasefire. In a phone conversation with UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, Netanyahu alleged that Hamas has violated 11 cease-fires since the war started.

On the International Criminal Court issue, Hamas's consent adds to domestic pressure on Abbas to join the body that has been mounting since the start of the fighting. A hesitant Abbas has debated for months whether to join the international court, a step that could transform his relations with Israel from tense to openly hostile, strain his ties with the US and deprive his government of badly needed Western financial support.

Abbas signalled yesterday that he hasn't made a decision yet, saying after his meeting with el-Sissi that "we are about to finalise this issue."

Netanyahu's office declined comment.

Israel opposes involving the court, arguing that 
Israel and the Palestinians should deal with any issues directly.

Sunday Independent

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