CAIRO: A senior Israeli government minister took part in talks in Cairo on Sunday for the first time in 13 years, amid a high-level diplomatic push to bring permanent peace to Gaza.
Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi met Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukry as part of Egypt’s efforts to revive the Middle East peace process and “build on the ceasefire in Gaza,” the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said.
At the same time, Egypt’s intelligence chief Abbas Kamel met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem. Netanyahu said they discussed regional security issues and how to prevent Hamas from siphoning off civilian aid to Gaza.
This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)
Kamel also met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah and handed him a message of support to Paletinians from Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.
The flurry of diplomatic activity follows an Egypt-brokered ceasefire on May 21 that ended an 11-day onslaught on Gaza that killed 248 Palestinians, 66 of them children.
In Cairo, Shoukry told Ashkenazi there was a “need to take into account the special sensitivity associated with East Jerusalem, Al-Aqsa Mosque and all Islamic and Christian holy sites", the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said. Attacks by Israeli security forces on worshippers in the mosque during Ramadan helped trigger the Gaza conflict.
Egypt restated its call for the creation of an appropriate atmosphere to revive talks between Israelis and Palestinians with the aim of reaching a two-state solution. Among the terms of the Egyptian initiative for a long-term truce was the immediate improvement of the humanitarian and economic situation in Gaza.
The initiative also stipulates a plan for the reconstruction of Gaza, and a prisoner exchange deal between Hamas and Israel.
Ashkenazi called on the Egyptian side to work toward reaching a permanent ceasefire with Hamas, with a focus on the need to reach an agreement that obliged Hamas to return Israeli soldiers and citizens captured since 2014.
The minister said Egypt was an important regional ally committed to peace in the region. He said: “We all need to act to prevent strengthening extremist elements that threaten regional stability, and to ensure the return home of the missing persons and prisoners held by Hamas.”
In Jerusalem, Netanyahu also repeated “the Israeli demand to return the soldiers and civilians detained in the Gaza Strip as soon as possible,” his office said.
Israel seeks the return of the remains of Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, two soldiers missing since the 2014 war on Gaza, and two Israeli civilians, Hisham Al-Sayed and Avera Mengistu.
Hamas says it has captured four Israeli soldiers, and has said more than once that all four were alive. Egypt has invited Israel, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority for talks on a deal to exchange prisoners.
Meanwhile, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh met with European Union envoy for the Middle East peace process Sven Koopmans where he called on Europe to solidify an initiative to revive the political process.
Shtayyeh said it was important to have international guarantees to avoid a repeat of Israel’s aggression in Gaza and the destruction of what has been reconstructed.
The premier also said the Palestinian leadership was determined on holding elections, calling on the international community — especially European countries — to seriously pressure Israel to allow them to hold candidacy, elections and campaigning in Jerusalem.