Hamas and Egypt to discuss truce, prisoner swap deal

ASDF213C7.jpgGAZA (Reuters) – Hamas leaders plan to hold talks with Egyptian officials in Cairo on the future of a ceasefire with Israel that has been marred by violations since it began nearly three weeks ago.

In the latest challenge to the Egyptian-brokered truce, militants in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip fired two mortar bombs at Israel on Tuesday, causing no casualties, the Israeli military said.

Similar attacks since the truce went into effect have led Israel to close crossings with Gaza that had been reopened under the truce deal to the limited entry of goods into the territory.

Officials in Gaza familiar with the Egyptian-Hamas dialogue said the talks would get under way on Wednesday.

“We will evaluate the Israeli commitment. They are opening the crossings partially and that was against the agreement,” Mahmoud al-Zahar, a senior Hamas leader, told reporters.

Zahar said he and other Hamas officials would urge Egypt to press Israel to stop the repeated closures.

Hamas has called on all militant groups in Gaza to abide by the truce, but some factions have vowed to respond militarily to Israeli raids in the occupied West Bank, which is not covered by the truce.

In response to mortar bomb attacks on Monday, Israel said it would keep Gaza crossings closed on Tuesday, but reversed the decision after a “special request” by Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, the Israeli Defence Ministry said.

Though Israel has responded to cross-border rocket attacks by frequently closing Gaza’s goods crossings, records show up to a 44 percent increase in total goods imports in recent weeks.

This includes a nearly 30 percent rise in petrol supplies and a 40 percent increase in diesel imports, the records show.

Zahar said the discussions also would include prospects for a prisoner swap with Israel.

Gaza militants have been holding Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit for the past two years and hope to trade him for hundreds of Palestinians in Israeli prisons.

Accusing Israel of a lack of commitment to the truce, Hamas last week declared talks on an exchange suspended. Zahar said Egyptian mediators would brief the group on Israel’s position.

He voiced few hopes that Egypt could succeed in efforts to reconcile between Hamas and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction. Hamas seized the Gaza Strip from Fatah in fighting a year ago.

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