Deputy secretary-general of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad Ziad al-Nakhaala said on Thursday that a long-term ceasefire that would include the lifting of the siege on Gaza would be announced soon, stressing that “great progress” had been made in negotiations.
The announcement, which comes on the first day of a five-day ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militants, raises hopes that a long-term truce will materialize after more than two weeks of negotiations that have so far yielded few results.
The breakthrough comes after Israel reportedly dropped its demand that Palestinian militant groups inside Gaza disarm, while apparently acceding to demands by the Palestinian delegation that the eight-year long economic blockade of the Strip be lifted.
Al-Nakhaala said on Thursday that progress had been made in the ongoing negotiations in Cairo, and that agreements had been reached on the opening of crossings into Gaza, facilitating the entry of goods, expanding the fishing zone, and ending the Israeli imposed “security buffer zone” that encompasses nearly 20 percent of the Gaza Strip’s territory.
Al-Nakhaala also added that Israel had agreed to commence talks on the re-opening of an airport and seaport in Gaza in a month, a key Palestinian demand.
Israel destroyed Gaza’s only airport in 2001 and has imposed a limit of three nautical miles on all boats from the enclave, crippling the fishing industry and ensuring total Israeli blockade of Gaza’s land, air, and sea entries.
Al-Nakhaala added that despite the progress, Israel was still pushing back on certain demands, including the entry of construction materials. He added, however, that even this dispute had been resolved with an agreement that the materials received be monitored by the Palestinian Authority.
He also said that Israel had dropped its earlier demand that Palestinian militant groups disarm due to Egyptian efforts.
The Palestinian delegation also discussed with the Egyptians the opening of the Rafah crossing, to which the Egyptians responding by promising to provide facilitation, he said.
Israeli television Channel 2 on Thursday, meanwhile, said that the Israeli ceasefire delegation would return to Cairo from Saturday evening until Monday night to continue talks for a lasting ceasefire.
The station said the talks are expected to include discussions on transferring the salary of government employees in Gaza.
More than 1,950 Palestinians — the vast majority civilians — have been killed in the five-week Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip, which the UN said destroyed or severely damaged the homes of more than 100,000 Gazans.
Hamas and Palestine Liberation Organization officials have insisted that Israel end its eight-year siege on the Gaza Strip, release dozens of prisoners whom Israel has re-arrested that were released in 2011 as part of the Shalit exchange, re-open a seaport and airport in Gaza, and create a safe passage between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
The demands are consistent with the terms of the Oslo Accords signed between Israel and the Palestinians in the 1990s, but which Israel has failed to abide by amid its refusal to consider direct negotiations of any kind with Hamas, which it considers a terrorist group.
Israeli authorities have said that they would be willing to extend the ceasefire indefinitely but previously stressed that a long-term agreement should include the demilitarization of the Strip.
Hamas has scoffed at this demand, saying it was al-Qassam fighters who prevented the full-scale infiltration and re-occupation of Gaza by Israeli forces in recent weeks.
Before another temporary ceasefire last week, Israeli forces pulled out of major Gaza cities and redeployed on the Israeli side of the border, although airstrikes and shelling on Gazan cities continued between temporary ceasefires.
(Ma’an – www.maannews.net)