Egypt has invited Israel, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority for separate talks that aim at consolidating the ceasefire that ended an 11-day war between Israel and the Gaza Strip’s militant Hamas rulers, Israeli media and an Egyptian intelligence official say.
The talks would also focus on accelerating the reconstruction process in Gaza.
“We are seeking a long-term truce, that would enable further discussions and possibly direct talks,” said the Egyptian official, who had close knowledge of the proceedings that had led to the ceasefire and who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t allowed to brief reporters.
The 11-day war killed more than 250 people, mostly Palestinians, and caused heavy destruction in the impoverished coastal territory.
Preliminary estimates have put the damage in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Egypt was key in mediating a deal between the two sides but much still hangs on turning the tenuous ceasefire into a more permanent truce.
He said the talks could start as early as next week and that Israel has given its initial approval but that a final agenda is still in the works.
He said that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammad bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, who was in Cairo on Tuesday, had both been party to discussions on further steps towards peace.
Blinken wrapped up a two-day Mideast visit Wednesday also aimed at solidifying the ceasefire and raising money for reconstruction.
One of the US goals is to ensure that any assistance be kept out of the hands of Hamas, which opposes Israel’s right to exist and which Israel and the US consider a terrorist group.
The Egyptian official said one possible mechanism for ensuring that is an international committee led by Egypt or the United Nations that would oversee the spending.
Israeli media reported that the talks would be taking place.
The Haaretz daily said on Thursday that Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi is expected to travel to Cairo next week for talks on a long-term ceasefire with Hamas.
It quoted an anonymous political source as saying the talks aim to bring about a summit in Cairo that would include representatives from Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt and possibly the US.
One of the issues, the report said, would be a possible exchange of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel for two Israeli civilians and the bodies of two Israeli soldiers held by Hamas in Gaza.
It said that Israel would allow humanitarian supplies into Gaza but condition the entry of non-urgent goods, including building materials, on the swap taking place.
Abdelatif al-Qanou, a spokesman for Hamas, confirmed that the group’s leader Ismail Haniyeh would visit Cairo next week and that the group is open to discussing a prisoner swap.
Al-Qanou said the talks in Cairo would also address ways to achieve unity between the rival Palestinian governments in Gaza and the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
There was no immediate comment from the Palestinian Authority on its attendance.
The Gaza Strip has been governed by Hamas since the group seized power from the Palestinian Authority in 2007, which resulted in a tight blockade by Israel and Egypt.
Since then, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has governed autonomous areas of the Israeli-occupied West Bank and has limited influence in Gaza.