UK & World News

  • 17 July 2014, 19:06

Middle East Ceasefire Talks 'Making Progress'

Efforts to achieve a lasting ceasefire between Israel and Hamas are "making progress" but no final agreement has been reached, sources have told Sky News.

Delegations from Israel, Hamas, the Palestinian Authority and regional powers are believed to be in Cairo working on a possible deal.

A five-hour UN-instigated ceasefire for humanitarian reasons that began on Thursday morning has now ended, with rockets being fired towards Israel shortly after the deadline passed.

Israel's military claims three mortars were fired at Israeli border communities during the temporary ceasefire itself.

A Hamas spokesman, speaking to the AFP news agency, denied the claim, saying: "All Palestinian factions are continuing to observe the truce".

Palestinian officials said various proposals had been put on the table in negotiations in Cairo, but no final truce had yet been accepted by any of the parties involved.

A high-level source in the Israeli leadership affirmed that position, saying simply, "the ball is still in play".

Senior Western diplomatic sources have told Sky News that Israel is believed to have offered a package of concessions related to easing "movement restrictions" on Gaza, but has ruled out the release of any Hamas prisoners in Israeli jails.

Hamas has demanded Israel release those prisoners, re-arrested last month, who were part of an exchange deal in 2011 for the return of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

Hamas has also called for the opening of the Rafah crossing from Gaza into Egypt, a request which will require the approval of Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al Sisi.

Israeli officials have told the Reuters news agency that the country's representatives in Cairo have approved a formulation of a possible agreement, which is now being examined by Israel's leadership.

However, Israel's foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, said reports a comprehensive deal had been agreed "do not reflect reality", according to the Haaretz newspaper.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas held talks with the Egyptian president in Cairo on Wednesday, and Quartet Middle East Envoy Tony Blair is also believed to be in the city.

Efforts to arrive at a ceasefire have been hindered by the toxic relations between Egypt and Hamas, following the crackdown on Islamist groups undertaken by President al Sisi.

Diplomatic sources say al Sisi's clear hostility towards groups like Hamas has made arriving at a deal far more difficult than during the last significant violence between Israel and Hamas, in November 2012, brokered by then-Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi.

"In order to stand a serious chance of holding, any ceasefire needs to be, to some degree, comprehensive," the Western source told Sky News.

"The broker [Egypt] is clearly very different to 2012, so getting something substantive upfront is much more critical [for Hamas] than last time. They will not accept an end with talks later as there is no trust in the broker.

"There needs to be enough on the table to make Hamas feel pressured to accept a deal - that's the diplomatic sweet spot that all are aiming for," the source added.