Israel FM arrives in Egypt for Gaza ‘permanent ceasefire’ talks

In first Israeli FM visit to Egypt in 13 years, talks include reconstruction of the ravaged Palestinian enclave after 11-day bombing.

Israel’s latest offensive on Gaza - which has been under a crippling siege since 2007 - killed 253 Palestinians, including 66 children [Mohammed Salem/Reuters]

Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi arrived in Cairo on Sunday to discuss with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry the establishment of a “permanent ceasefire” between Israel and Hamas, the group that governs the besieged Gaza Strip.

Ashkenazi tweeted in Arabic, English and Hebrew that his Cairo trip is “the first formal visit of an Israeli FM in 13 years”.

According to his tweet, the visit comes in response to an invitation extended by Egypt’s Shoukry.

“We will discuss establishing a permanent ceasefire with Hamas, a mechanism for providing humanitarian aid & the reconstruction of Gaza with a pivotal role played by the international community,” he added.

He also noted his government was “fully committed” to repatriating Israeli prisoners held by Hamas.

Egypt played a pivotal role in brokering a ceasefire earlier this month between the Israelis and Hamas, bringing an end to 11 days of bombardment.

Israel’s latest offensive on Gaza – which has been under a crippling siege since 2007 – killed 253 Palestinians, including 66 children.

The attacks destroyed 1,800 residential units and partially destroyed at least another 14,300, forcing tens of thousands of Palestinians to take shelter in United Nations-run schools.

The bombing also struck some 74 public buildings, including local municipalities, according to figures released by Gaza’s information ministry.

Senior Egyptian security officials confirmed to AFP news agency on Sunday that Hamas’s leader Ismail Haniyeh would also be in Cairo for discussions, but would not provide further details.

Concurrently, Egypt’s intelligence chief Abbas Kamel leading a high-level security delegation is expected in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, the officials added.

“President [Abdel Fattah] el-Sisi instructed the general intelligence chief to discuss with the Israeli Prime Minister [Benjamin Netanyahu] and concerned authorities the fixing of a permanent ceasefire and the latest developments on the Palestinian front,” they said.

El-Sisi, who has restored his country’s role as a regional heavyweight, also tasked Kamel with ending political divisions between rivals Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the occupied West Bank, the officials said.

Palestinians have been politically divided between Hamas and its rival Fatah, but analysts say the latest escalation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has served to unite the geographically fragmented Palestinian community in a way not seen in years.

The escalation was the result of increased tensions in occupied East Jerusalem over Israel’s planned expulsion of Palestinian families from Sheikh Jarrah and attacks on the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

Rockets and other fire from Gaza killed 12 people in Israel, including two children.

El-Sisi has pledged $500m to help reconstruction efforts in the densely populated and ravaged enclave.

Egypt has aided Israel’s ongoing siege on Gaza, and has largely kept the Rafah border crossing shut for what it says are security reasons.

The siege of Gaza has also stopped the flow of construction materials needed to rebuild much of the enclave’s infrastructure, which was damaged in the previous Israeli military campaigns of 2008, 2012 and 2014.

These hard-to-obtain materials must be cleared by layers of bureaucracy.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies