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The Canadian Press

Israel, Egypt talk truce with Hamas, rebuild Gaza Strip

CAIRO (AP) – Egypt and Israel hold high-level talks in the two countries on Sunday to consolidate a fragile truce between Israel and the militant Hamas group and rebuild the Gaza Strip after an 11-day punitive war that has left much of the enclave seaside in ruins. Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukry was meeting with his Israeli counterpart, Gabi Ashkenazi, who landed in Cairo on Sunday, according to the Egyptian Foreign Ministry. It was the first public visit by an Israeli foreign minister to Egypt since 2008, the Israeli embassy in Cairo said on Twitter. He wrote that the two ministers would discuss topics such as the ceasefire and the release of Israeli soldiers and citizens held by Hamas. “We will discuss the establishment of a permanent ceasefire with #Hamas, a mechanism to provide humanitarian aid and the reconstruction of #Gaza with a central role played by the Intl. community, ”Ashkenazi tweeted upon arrival in Cairo. Meanwhile, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi sent the country’s intelligence chief to Tel Aviv for talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli officials. They will discuss the consolidation of the ceasefire in Gaza and the latest developments in the Palestinian territories, the official MENA news agency reported. An Egyptian official said that Abbas Kamel, head of the General Intelligence Directorate, would also meet with Palestinian officials in Ramallah before traveling to Gaza for talks with Hamas leaders. The agency, which is the Egyptian equivalent of the CIA, generally manages Egypt’s relations with Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups in Gaza. Discussions with Israeli officials are also expected to focus on a package of measures that would allow materials, electricity and fuel to enter the territory, as well as the possible expansion of the maritime space allowed for fishermen from Gaza, the official said. “The role of the Palestinian Authority is central in the talks,” he said. “Egypt seeks to involve him deeply in the reconstruction process.” The Egyptian official, who had extensive knowledge of the process that led to the ceasefire, spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to brief reporters. The 11-day war killed more than 250 people, most of them Palestinians, and caused extensive destruction in the impoverished coastal territory. Preliminary estimates put the damage in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Egypt played a key role in mediating an agreement between the two parties. The official said Egypt would offer guarantees that reconstruction funds would not reach Hamas, perhaps through an international committee led by Egypt or the United Nations that would oversee the spending. Kamel will also discuss the situation in Jerusalem and ways to ease tensions in the holy city, including easing Israeli restrictions on the Al-Aqsa Mosque and how to prevent the planned eviction of Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem, the official said. The talks in Gaza and Tel Aviv would also examine the possibility of releasing Palestinian prisoners in Israel in exchange for Israelis held by Hamas, he said. Egypt last week invited Israel, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority to separate talks in Cairo to consolidate the ceasefire negotiated by Cairo and speed up the reconstruction process in Gaza. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh is expected to visit Cairo this week, according to group spokesman Abdelatif al-Qanou, who also said Hamas was open to discussing a prisoner swap with Israel. Samy Magdy, The Associated Press

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