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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Netanyahu held secret Egypt meeting with Sisi over Gaza

Israel's finance minister confirms talks over situation in besieged coastal enclave

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi speaks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during their meeting ahead of the UN General Assembly. Reuters
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi speaks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during their meeting ahead of the UN General Assembly. Reuters

Israel's finance minister confirmed on Tuesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Egypt in May to discuss a long-term ceasefire in the Gaza Strip.

A spokesman for Netanyahu had declined to comment on the meeting after it was first reported on Monday by Israel's Channel 10 News.

Egypt and the United Nations have been trying to mediate a long-term truce between Israel and Hamas, the Islamist group that rules Gaza, following a spike in cross-border violence in the past few months.

The two leaders discussed the easing of an Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza, rehabilitation of its infrastructure and terms for a ceasefire, the Channel 10 report said.

Asked on Israeli Army Radio whether he had known of the meeting, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon replied "Yes." He added that "everything that will happen in Gaza will be done with Egyptian mediation and involvement".

There have been numerous reports of ongoing talks, led by Egypt but also involving the UN and Qatar. Palestinian president Mahmoud Abas visited Doha last week, at the same time as a high level Hamas delegation. While there, Mr Abbas discussed Palestinian reconciliation with Qatari officials. There were also reports that an Isralei official had also visited Qatar just before the arrival of Mr Abbas or the Hamas delegation.

Hamas and the Palestinian Authority made great strides towards reconciliation earlier this year in a bid to end the 10-year schism between the factions. The reconciliation process was derailed when an explosion targeted Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah as he visited the Gaza Strip in March.

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More than 2 million Palestinians are packed into the Gaza Strip, which is experiencing deep economic hardship. The World Bank has described the situation as a humanitarian crisis with shortages of water, electricity and medicine.

Citing security concerns, Israel and Egypt keep tight restrictions on their border crossings with Gaza, which have reduced the enclave's economy to a state of collapse.

Israel says the blockade is intended to prevent weapons reaching Hamas and other Gaza militant groups that have launched hundreds of rockets across the border in the past few months, during which time Israel has also carried out dozens of air strikes, targeting what it said were Hamas sites.

At least 161 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli gunfire in weekly protests along the Israel-Gaza border that began on March 30, and one Israeli soldier has been killed by a Palestinian sniper.