Israel and Hamas start indirect talks as ceasefire continues to hold
Israel and Hamas have started indirect talks on a new border deal for the blockaded Gaza Strip as a ceasefire ending their month-long war entered its second day.
Israel has said it wants the Islamic militant Hamas to disarm, or at least ensure it cannot re-arm, before considering the group's demand that the territory's borders be opened. Israel and Egypt imposed a closure after the Hamas takeover of Gaza in 2007.
The indirect talks are being held in Cairo, with Egyptian mediators shuttling between the delegations.
Disarming Hamas topped the list of Israeli demands presented in a meeting with mediators yesterday, said an Egyptian security official.
The Israeli delegation has since left for Israel but was to return to Cairo later today, the official added.
The Palestinian delegation is composed of negotiators from all major factions including Hamas and was to meet with Egyptian officials later today to be briefed on Israel's demands, said Bassam Salhi, a Palestinian delegate,.
"The most important thing to us is removing the blockade and start reconstructing Gaza," he said. "There can be no deal without that."
He said the ceasefire, set to expire at 8am local time on Friday, would likely be extended if more time for talks is needed.
Talks are still in the early stages but the outlines of a possible solution have emerged, including internationally-funded reconstruction of Gaza overseen by a Palestinian unity government led by Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. The western-backed Abbas lost control of Gaza in the Hamas takeover of 2007.
In a step toward reconstruction, Norway is organising a donor conference, tentatively set for the beginning of September.
Regarding easing the blockade, a statement by Egyptian intelligence indicated it would not agree to major changes at the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza, and the onus of lifting the border closure would fall on Israel.
The ceasefire is the longest lull in a war that has killed nearly 1,900 Palestinians - 75% of them civilians according to the United Nations. Israel has lost 67 people, including three civilians.
The war broke out on July 8 when the Israeli military began bombarding targets in Gaza in an attempt to stop Hamas from launching rockets at Israel. Nine days later it sent in ground troops to destroy underground tunnels it said were built to attack Israel.
But in the weeks leading up to the war, Israeli-Palestinian tensions had already been rising following the June killings of three Israeli teenagers, whose bodies were discovered two weeks after they disappeared in the West Bank.
Israel accused Hamas of being behind the abductions and subsequently carried out a massive ground operation in the West Bank, arresting hundreds of Hamas operatives as part of a manhunt.
In early July, an Arab teenager was abducted and burned alive by Israeli extremists in an apparent revenge attack. Six Jewish Israelis were arrested in that killing.
On Wednesday, Israel's Justice Ministry said it had arrested Hussam al-Qawasmi, the suspected mastermind behind the killing of the Israeli teens, in July.
He allegedly led a three-man cell, all of whom were affiliated with Hamas. The militant group has not claimed any connection to the teens' abduction and killings.
In Gaza, people took advantage of the calm today to return to their devastated homes and inspect the damage.
People trickled back to their homes making their way over buckled roads, through dangling power lines and overturned trees to inspect their neighbourhoods.
Along the way, rows of flattened buildings alternated with moderately damaged structures - and rare buildings with no damage.