Israel says Gaza truce talks focus on easing closure in return for calm

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Israel set out limited goals for Gaza truce talks on Sunday, saying the focus was on a proposal to ease its blockade of the Islamist Hamas-controlled territory in return for the Palestinians calming their side of the frontier.

The Israeli statement came hours before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened his security cabinet to discuss, and possibly approve U.N.- and Egyptian-brokered ideas for preventing another threatened Gaza war.

A very brief statement issued after the meeting ended revealed little. It said that Israel’s military chief had briefed the cabinet about the situation in the Gaza Strip and that the army was “prepared for any scenario.”

The United Nations and Egypt have not publicly detailed their proposals. They have spoken generally of a need to improve humanitarian conditions in Gaza, stem cross-border hostilities and reconcile Hamas – which refuses formal peacemaking with Israel – to its Western-backed Palestinian rivals.

Gaza, under years of grinding Israeli and Egyptian sanctions aimed at isolating Hamas, has seen a surge in tensions since Palestinians launched weekly border protests on March 30, drawing Israeli army fire that has killed at least 157 people.

There have also been shelling exchanges between Hamas-led militants and Israel in which around 10 Palestinian gunmen and four civilians have died, Gaza sniper attacks that killed an Israeli soldier and wounded another, and wide-scale brushfires set in Israel by incendiary kites and helium balloons from Gaza.

Israel responded on July 9 by shuttering Gaza’s main commercial terminal and limiting a Palestinian fishing zone off the enclave, measures it offered to reverse on Sunday.

“A complete ceasefire (by the Palestinians) will lead, on Israel’s part, to the reopening of the Kerem Shalom crossing and renewal of the permits given in respect to the fishing zones,” said the Israeli official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

This offer would be the focus of Sunday’s deliberations, the official said, adding that any eventual broader agreement over Gaza would require a guarantee for the return of the remains of two Israeli soldiers killed in the 2014 Israel-Hamas war, and two civilians lost in Gaza.

Hamas has linked their fate to Israel freeing Palestinian security detainees – something many Israelis oppose.

Hamas, which convened several of its top leaders to Gaza last week for consultations, also sounded circumspect on Sunday.