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August 5, 2018 9:55 am

Israel Says Gaza Truce Talks Focus on Easing Closure in Return for Calm

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A truck parks next to a security barrier inside the Kerem Shalom border crossing terminal between Israel and Gaza Strip January 16, 2018. Photo: REUTERS/Amir Cohen/File Photo.

Israel set out limited goals for Gaza truce talks on Sunday, saying the focus was on a proposal to ease its closure on the Islamist Hamas-controlled territory in return for the Palestinians calming their side of the frontier.

The Israeli statement came hours before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was due to convene his security cabinet to discuss, and possibly approve, UN-and Egyptian-brokered ideas for preventing another threatened Gaza war.

The United Nations and Egypt have not publicly detailed their proposals. They have spoken generally of a need to improve humanitarian conditions in Gaza, stem cross-border hostilities and reconcile Hamas – which refuses formal peacemaking with Israel – to its Western-backed Palestinian rivals.

Gaza, under years of grinding Israeli and Egyptian blockades aimed at isolating Hamas, has seen a surge in tensions since Palestinians launched weekly border protests on March 30, drawing Israeli army fire that has killed at least 157 people – most of which were members of terror groups.

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There have also been shelling exchanges between Hamas-led militants and Israel in which around 10 Palestinian gunmen and four civilians have died, Gaza sniper attacks that killed an Israeli soldier and wounded another, and wide-scale brushfires set in Israel by incendiary kites and helium balloons from Gaza.

Israel responded on July 9 by shuttering Gaza’s main commercial terminal and limiting a Palestinian fishing zone off the blockaded enclave, measures it offered to reverse on Sunday.

“A complete ceasefire (by the Palestinians) will lead, on Israel’s part, to the reopening of the Kerem Shalom crossing and renewal of the permits given in respect to the fishing zones,” said an Israeli official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

This offer would be the focus of Sunday’s deliberations, the official said, adding that any eventual broader agreement over Gaza would require a guarantee for the return of two Israeli soldiers killed in the 2014 Israel-Hamas war, and two civilians lost in Gaza.

Hamas has linked their fate to Israel freeing Palestinian security detainees – something many Israelis oppose.

Hamas, which convened several of its top leaders to Gaza last week for consultations, also sounded circumspect on Sunday.

“Hamas has conducted internal meetings that have not yet ended,” one senior official, Hussam Badran, told a Gaza radio station.

“The suffering of our people, and the 12-year blockade imposed with no guilt on their part, requires that all Palestinian leaders search for a real solution to this suffering … without giving concessions when it comes to the known and outstanding positions and rights of our people.”

In what appeared to be a confidence-building gesture by Cairo, a pro-Hamas website said Egypt was on Sunday beginning to allow cooking gas across its border to Gaza to make up for the shortfall in Israeli supplies.

Also on Sunday, the Israeli military said it fired toward a vehicle used by Palestinian balloon-launchers in Gaza on Sunday. Palestinian medics said four people were wounded.

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