Egyptian-brokered peace talks break down

Last updated 17:57 10/08/2014

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A Palestinian negotiator said his team will quit Egyptian-brokered talks on a deal to end the Gaza war unless Israeli negotiators return to Cairo. 

Israeli officials have said their negotiators, who left Cairo on Friday (local time), will not return as long as rocket fire from Gaza continues. Over the weekend, Gaza militants have fired dozens of rockets and mortar shells at Israel, including two on Sunday, the Israeli army said. 

The difficulties in getting both sides together, even for indirect negotiations, are a sign of the vast gaps on a solution to end the Gaza war.  

Hamas has said it wants assurances by Israel that it is willing to lift the blockade on Gaza before observing another cease-fire. Israel and Egypt have enforced a border closure of Gaza, to varying degrees, since the Islamic militant Hamas seized the territory in 2007. 

Israel has said it will not open Gaza's borders unless militant groups, including Hamas, disarm. Hamas has said handing over its weapons arsenal, which is believed to include several thousand remaining rockets, is inconceivable.  

Instead, one proposal circulated by the Egyptian mediators over the weekend offered a minor easing of some of the restrictions, according to Palestinian negotiators who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to discuss internal deliberations with journalists. It was not clear if this was an Egyptian or an Israeli proposal. 

The Palestinian negotiators said they rejected the ideas, insisting on a complete end to the blockade.   

The Palestinian team includes Hamas officials and representatives of Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, from whom Hamas had taken Gaza in 2007.  

The indirect talks started last week during a three-day truce Hamas refused to extend. 

Palestinian negotiator Bassam Salhi, who represents a small PLO faction, said his team met late Saturday with Egyptian mediators. 

In the meeting, the Palestinians were told that Egypt is in touch with Israeli officials and hopes to make progress, Salhi said. 

''We told the Egyptians that if the Israelis are not coming and if there is no significant development, we are leaving today,'' he said Sunday. 

Israeli officials were not immediately available for comment. 

The Gaza war erupted on July 8, following weeks of escalating tensions between Israel and Hamas. Israel launched an air campaign on the coastal territory, sending in ground troops nine days later to target rocket launchers and cross-border tunnels built by Hamas for attacks inside Israel.  Israel has targeted close to 5,000 sites, the army has said, while Gaza militants have fired more than 3,000 rockets into Israel.   

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Gaza's civilians, especially children, have paid a steep price.   

Of more than 1,900 people killed, at least 450 were children, according to Palestinian health officials.  Children also made up almost one-third of close to 10,000 wounded. More than 10,000 homes have been destroyed, leaving some 65,000 people homeless, according to UN estimates. Tens of thousands fled fighting in the border areas, including heavy Israeli tank shelling, and are staying in crowded UN shelters.

- AP

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