Bikas Das, ASSOCIATED PRESS
CAIRO — Indirect Israel-Palestinian negotiations over extending a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip and ending a blockade of the territory got underway in Cairo on Wednesday, with positions from both sides maximalist and much jockeying expected ahead.
Israel wants the Islamic militant Hamas to disarm, or at least ensure it cannot re-arm, before considering the group's demand that the territory's borders be opened. Israel and Egypt imposed a closure after the Hamas takeover of Gaza in 2007, although Egypt allows individuals to cross intermittently.
"The two sides have reviewed what they consider as issues of concern," Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri said at a news conference, describing the matter as "complicated and not easy."
Egyptian mediators have been shuttling between the delegations, and an Egyptian airport official said the Israeli delegation was back in Cairo Wednesday evening after flying out earlier in the day. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters.
The Palestinian delegation is composed of negotiators from all major factions, including Hamas, and is meeting with Egypt's intelligence chief for briefings on Israel's demands.
"The most important thing to us is removing the blockade and start reconstructing Gaza," said Bassam Salhi, a Palestinian delegate. "There can be no deal without that."
He said the cease-fire, set to expire at 8 a.m. Friday (0500 GMT), would likely be extended if more time for talks is needed. Shukri said that he hopes it would be extended.
The negotiations are still in the early stages, but the outlines of a possible solution have emerged, including internationally funded reconstruction of Gaza overseen by a Palestinian unity government led by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The Western-backed Abbas lost control of Gaza in the Hamas takeover of 2007.
In a step toward reconstruction, Norway is organizing a donor conference, tentatively set for the beginning of September.
Regarding easing the blockade, a statement by Egyptian intelligence indicated it would not agree to major changes at the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza, and the onus of lifting the border closure would fall on Israel.
Egypt considers Gaza occupied by Israel and the country responsible for Gaza's other heavily restricted border crossings that lead into the Jewish State. Cairo also refuses to open its border fully as long as Hamas, not the Palestinian authority led by Abbas, controls the Gaza side of the terminal.
"Israel is the one that sealed all the crossings from the Israeli side and it doesn't allow commodities and goods or individuals to cross, aiming at besieging the strip and throw the whole responsibility on Egypt," the statement said.
The statement also took aim at Hamas, saying it was not permitting its own wounded population to cross into Egypt.
"The Palestinian party continued to put obstacles in front of the families, allowing only its foreign members to cross while barring its Palestinian members under the pretext that Egypt is barring them," it said.
Rafah is closed to commercial traffic and allows only individuals to cross, but Egypt has sharply restricted travel rights of Gaza residents over the past year and waiting lists have grown.
Speaking at his news conference, held with his Venezuelan counterpart, Shukri said talks are giving priority to the Israeli-controlled crossings and how to operate them to "meet demands of the Palestinian people."
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