Egypt Proposes Permanent Ceasefire Agreement

YERUSHALAYIM -

With the current five-day ceasefire set to expire on Monday at midnight, Egypt has proposed a permanent ceasefire and a new round of talks next month, Ynet reported.

As of Sunday night, neither side had commented officially on the Egyptian initiative.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that any deal must meet the security needs of the state of Israel. “Only if there is a clear response to our security needs will we agree to reach understandings,” he said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting.

Netanyahu said that Hamas  had been dealt a heavy blow by Operation Protective Edge.

“If Hamas thinks its defeat on the battlefield will be papered over by a victory at the negotiating table it is mistaken,” he said.

Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz warned on Sunday that Hamas will attain none of its demands unless terrorists factions agree to disarm.

“Without demilitarizing the Strip, a port in Gaza will be a duty-free for missiles and rockets,” Army Radio quoted him as saying before he entered the weekly cabinet meeting.

Thus, Israel gave its public answer to the online ultimatum of Osama Hamdan, the head of Hamas’s foreign affairs that “Israel must accept the demands of the Palestinian people or face a long war.”

At the same time, a senior official source told Hamodia’s senior military correspondent A. Pe’er that the two sides are moving close to an agreement, but that nothing will be signed until there’s a solid commitment from Hamas that there will be genuine calm in the south.

A Palestinian negotiator said Sunday his side is “less optimistic” about the talks than they were late last week when the latest ceasefire was agreed.

The Palestinian negotiators were consulting in Qatar, Lebanon and elsewhere in the Middle East over the weekend, and returned to Cairo on Sunday. The Israeli team also returned Sunday to resume the indirect, Egyptian-mediated talks.

The head of the Palestinian delegation in Cairo, Azzam al-Ahmad, said Sunday afternoon: “We hope to reach a final agreement on a ceasefire in the coming hours, but we will not consent to a ‘thin’ agreement.”

Hamas demands for a lifting of the blockade and the opening of a seaport and airport in Gaza, along with Israel’s demand for demilitarization of the Hamas-run enclave and the return of the bodies of two IDF soldiers killed in the Operation Protective Edge, are among the issues that remain to be resolved.

Progress has been made in other areas, however, mostly related to borders and fishing rights. Earlier Sunday, Israel, which had not allowed Gazan fishermen to set sail during Protective Edge, permitted fishing up to 3 miles from the coast. Israel has indicated its willingness to expand the fishing limit, if other issues can be settled. Israel has reportedly agreed to a significant increase in the number of trucks carrying non-military goods into Gaza, and Hamas has agreed to let the Palestinian Authority operate the border crossing into Egypt.

Meanwhile, the European Union on Friday said it was willing to reactivate an EU mission on the Egypt-Gaza border to help stabilize the Palestinian enclave, Reuters reported.

At talks in Brussels, foreign ministers representing the 28 EU countries welcomed a ceasefire in Gaza and said they could relaunch the EU Border Assistance Mission for the Rafah crossing point (EUBAM Rafah) and possibly expand its scope.

EUBAM started to monitor the Rafah crossing point in 2005 as part of an accord aimed at easing Israeli security concerns after it pulled its troops and residents from Gaza.

However, the operation was halted two years later when Hamas terrorists seized control of the coastal enclave and ousted the Palestinian Authority.