Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 July 2019

Egyptian mediators work on 'new understanding' to avert Gaza flare-up

Hamas official says deal would give Gaza residents significant relief

Israeli tanks stand near the border with Gaza on March 28, 2019. Reuters
Israeli tanks stand near the border with Gaza on March 28, 2019. Reuters

Egyptian mediators went to Israel on Thursday to discuss a proposal for a new ceasefire plan between Israel and Hamas, as the sides braced for the possibility of violence this weekend.

Hamas was making preparations for a mass demonstration along the Israeli border on Saturday. In response, Israel said it was moving extra troops to the area.

Ismail Radwan, a top Hamas official, said the Egyptians were expected to return to Gaza later on Thursday or early Friday after their meetings with the Israelis.

He said that if there were progress, Hamas would scale back Saturday's demonstration.

The protest, marking the one-year anniversary of the Friday gatherings, is expected to be larger than usual.

"The new understanding, if implemented, would make our people in Gaza feel a significant relief," Mr Radwan said.

He said if Israel "was committed to the understandings, then Saturday's march would be peaceful".

Three Hamas officials said the Egyptians were offering Hamas measures to ease a crippling blockade on Gaza.

In exchange, Hamas would have to pledge to stop rocket fire and keep border protests under control and far from the separation fence.

The officials said the deal would only take effect after Saturday's demonstration, which could be a sticking point for the Israelis.

They said Israeli gestures should include an expanded fishing zone for Palestinians off the Gaza coast, increasing imports and exports for the enclave, more electricity from Israel and greater movement of people through Gaza's border crossings.

One of the officials described the atmosphere at the negotiations as positive. There was no immediate Israeli comment on the talks.

Nearly 200 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire during the protests.

Its military has come under heavy international criticism over the large number of unarmed people who have been shot, sometimes hundreds of metres away from the border.

During a trip to the southern border region, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was prepared to take further military action in Gaza, but only as a last resort.

Mr Netanyahu on Thursday visited troops sent to the Gaza border this week after a two days of fighting.

The Israeli military said it had increased its troop presence along the border with the Gaza Strip and completed preparations for any renewal of hostilities.

The army said it issued a video showing soldiers massing near the border conducting urban combat drills.

"If we need a broader operation we will enter it strong and confident, and after we have exhausted all other options," Mr Netanyahu said.

This week, Israel carried out retaliatory air strikes against Hamas after a rocket fired from Gaza destroyed a house north of Tel Aviv and wounded seven Israelis.

Palestinian militants responded with rocket barrages in some of the most intense fighting since the 2014 war. A fragile calm has held since early Wednesday.

During the negotiations, Israeli air strikes wounded three Palestinians.

Updated: March 29, 2019 03:44 AM

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