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Gaza Deal Talks Resume                 08/19 06:53

   CAIRO (AP) -- Palestinian and Israeli negotiators in Cairo resumed indirect 
talks on Tuesday, trying to hammer out a roadmap for the war-torn Gaza Strip 
after Egypt announced a 24-hour extension of the cease-fire to allow more time 
for negotiations.

   The extension of the truce fanned hopes of an emerging deal, however vague, 
though wide gaps remain on key issues, including Israel's blockade of Gaza, its 
demands for disarmament of the Islamic militant group Hamas and Palestinian 
demands for a Gaza seaport and an airport.

   In an apparent attempt to pressure Hamas, Egypt said early Monday it would 
co-host an international fundraising conference for Gaza --- but only if a deal 
is reached first.

   That appears to play into the hands of the West Bank-based Palestinian 
Authority, which is seeking to regain a Gaza foothold, seven years after Hamas 
ousted it from power in the densely populated coastal strip.

   Hamas, whose officials are part of the Palestinian delegation in the Cairo 
talks, has emerged weaker from the month-long Gaza war.

   The militant group finds itself pressured by both Egypt and the Palestinian 
Authority to accept a less than perfect deal with Israel, but needs to show the 
people of Gaza that the enormous sacrifices they endured in the fighting were 
not in vain.

   There were few signs of any major breakthroughs.

   A member of the Palestinian delegation said that Israel was offering to ease 
the Gaza blockade by opening border crossings to some goods and people, but was 
insisting that it retain the right to limit the imports of material like 
cement, and chemical and metal products, which Israel says can be used for 
weapons manufacturing.

   Hamas fears the arrangement would allow Israel to retain the right to close 
the crossings whenever it wished and is pushing for more Palestinian input into 
such decisions.

   The Palestinian official also told The Associated Press that Israel wants to 
put off for an unspecified date any discussion on the opening of a Gaza seaport 
and airport and the release of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails.

   The Palestinians, however, say they will only agree to postpone discussing 
the seaport and airport for "a month after a ceasefire agreement, with other 
issues like .... the prisoners," the official said. He spoke condition of 
anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss negotiations with the media.

   He also said that Israel agrees to extend the maritime territory in which 
Gaza fisherman can venture out from two to four kilometers (three to six miles) 
and eventually to 19 kilometers (12 miles) from the shore, but that it was 
standing firm against Hamas' demand for unsupervised exports from the strip.

   The Gaza blockade, imposed after Hamas seized control of the territory in 
2007, has greatly limited the movement of Palestinians in and out of the 
territory of 1.8 million people, restricted the flow of goods into Gaza and 
blocked virtually all exports.

   Israel says the blockade is needed to prevent arms smuggling, but critics 
say the measures have amounted to collective punishment.

   Jamal Shobaky, the Palestinian ambassador in Cairo voiced disappointment 
with the Israeli stance, particularly on the question of the blockade. "What 
the Israelis have offered so far in the talks is not removing the blockade but 
rather easing it," he said.

   The latest round of Gaza fighting was precipitated by massive Israeli 
arrests of Hamas members in the West Bank in the aftermath of the abduction and 
killing of three Israeli teenagers in June. Their deaths were followed by the 
slaying of a Palestinian youth in Jerusalem in what was a likely revenge attack.

   On Monday, Israel's Shin Bet security service said it had uncovered a coup 
plot due to information gleaned from the West Bank arrests. It described the 
plot as a Hamas coup attempt aimed at toppling Palestinian President Mahmoud 
Abbas.

   Since the war started with an Israeli air campaign on July 8, followed by 
the introduction of troops on the ground nine days later, many of the strip's 
structures have been destroyed and tens of thousands of people remain huddled 
in U.N. shelters.

   Gaza Health Ministry official Ashraf al-Kidra said Monday the death toll 
from the fighting had jumped to over 2,000 Palestinians, the majority of them 
civilians, while U.N. officials, who often take more time to verify figures, 
put the number at 1,976. Israel lost 67 people, all but three of them soldiers. 
 


(KA)


 
 
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