Egypt holds talks with Gaza Islamists on truce

ISMAILIA, Egypt (Reuters) – Egypt held talks on Saturday with representatives of Hamas and Islamic Jihad from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, part of a push for a truce between the militant groups and Israel, officials said.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum in Gaza said Khaled al-Batsh of Islamic Jihad was present as was Hamas official Jamal Abu Hashem. The talks were held in government offices on the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza.

With U.S. backing, Egypt has been trying to negotiate a cessation of hostilities between Israel and Gaza militants who fire rockets across the border into the Jewish state.

Barhoum said the Egyptians had informed the Palestinians of consultations “with several parties,” and that the Palestinians would now hold consultations at home.

An Egyptian source close to the talks said the Palestinian delegation called for the release of 36 members of Hamas detained in Egypt after Palestinian militants breached the border in January.

“The Egyptians have promised to release the (Gazan) detainees in the near future. Hamas hopes that we will see deeds and not only promises as we are highly concerned about the continued detention and torture of detainees,” Barhoum said.

Earlier this week, senior Hamas official Saeed Seyam said in an interview posted online that detainees were tortured in Egyptian jails, and that interrogators wanted to know the location of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

Shalit, then 19, was captured by Palestinian gunmen in a cross-border raid into an Israeli army base in June 2006.

Hamas has said it will not release Shalit unless Israel frees nearly 1,400 Palestinian prisoners, including 350 with life sentences. Israel has rejected these terms.

The Egyptian source said Egypt had asked for an explanation of Seyam’s claim that the detainees were tortured.

Local and international human rights groups say torture is systematic in Egyptian jails and police stations. The government says it opposes torture and prosecutes torturers when there is evidence.

The Egyptian source said the talks included the possibility of a partial reopening of the Rafah crossing for two or three days per week, until such time as it resumed normal operations, but gave no further details.

Hamas militants blew open Gaza’s southern border wall with Egypt in January to break an Israeli-led siege on the territory, home to 1.5 million Palestinians, allowing Palestinians to flood into Egypt to buy supplies. The border has been resealed.

Israel tightened restrictions at Gaza’s crossings after Islamist Hamas seized the territory from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction in fighting in June. A ceasefire agreement could entail an easing of those measures.

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