Egypt brokers Gaza calm

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Egyptian officials on Tuesday said they were attempting to broker an agreement between Israel and Palestinian factions to halt the violence in Gaza, but added that none of the parties had yet shown enough flexibility for a breakthrough.

By Andrew England in Cairo and Tobias Buck in Jerusalem

The Mediterranean strip has enjoyed a lull in fighting in recent days following one of the most deadly weeks in recent years, in which an Israeli offensive in Gaza left more than 100 Palestinians dead. A Palestinian gunman also killed eight students at a Jewish seminary in Jerusalem, for which Israel has yet to retaliate.

However, both Egyptian and Israeli officials say the situation remains fragile and further violence could erupt at any time. Egypt’s diplomatic effort – which is designed to negotiate a “period of calm” – involves Hamas, the Islamist movement that controls Gaza; Islamic Jihad, the Palestinian group; Fatah, the party of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas; and Israel.

“Each party is putting its own position. We will have to see whether they are all compatible and whether there can be an accommodation. It is needless to say that each party needs … to show some flexibility if they want to achieve the goal of calm,” Hossam Zaki, an official at the Egyptian foreign ministry, said. “It’s a complicated effort, a fragile situation with the parties involved … not showing enough flexibility until now.”

The process represents a broadening of mediation efforts by Cairo which began after Hamas militants destroyed the border barrier between Rafah and Gaza in January. That enabled hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to pour into Egypt and led to clashes between Egyptian forces and Palestinians, creating a headache for Cairo which has its own security concerns.

Egypt is keen for the Rafah crossing to be formally reopened to lift Israel’s blockade on Gaza and relieve the pressure on the strip’s 1.5m residents, while also helping prevent it being seen as a party to the Jewish state’s siege.

Israeli officials said there were no formal or informal contacts between the government and Hamas.

However, one official pointed out that a period of calm suited both sides in order to give Israeli and Palestinian civilians a reprieve from fierce fighting in Gaza and rocket attacks on nearby Israeli cities.
Israeli officials also said the relative quiet of recent days was intended to give more time to an Egyptian diplomatic initiative. They warned, however, that the lull could end at any point.

Financial Times

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