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Monday, November 26, 2012
Israel, Palestinians begin negotiating border arrangements

Israel, Palestinians begin negotiating border arrangements
Josef Federman
JERUSALEM — The Associated Press
Published Monday, Nov. 26 2012, 11:40 AM EST
Last updated Monday, Nov. 26 2012, 11:43 AM EST
http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/israel-palestinians-begin-negotiating-border-arrangements/article5663227/

Israel and Palestinian militants from the Gaza Strip began indirect talks
Monday in Egypt aimed at forging a new era of relations between the bitter
enemies following a cease-ire that ended the heaviest fighting in nearly
four years.

The talks, being mediated by Egypt, were the first negotiations since the
ceasefire took effect last Wednesday, halting eight days of airstrikes
targeting militant groups in the Palestinian territory and rocket attacks
that reached deep into Israel.

Israel launched some 1,500 airstrikes in a bid to end rocket attacks out of
Gaza, while the Hamas and the Islamic Jihad militant groups fired a similar
number of rockets at Israeli cities. More than 160 Palestinians, including
dozens of civilians were killed. Palestinian attacks killed Six Israelis,
including four civilians and two soldiers.

Now that fighting has subsided, Egypt is working with the sides on carrying
out the second phase of the agreement: negotiating new border arrangements
for the impoverished coastal strip.

The negotiations will not be simple. The militants want Israel to lift what
remains of its blockade of Gaza, imposed five years ago after Hamas seized
control of the territory from its Western-backed rival Palestinian President
Mahmoud Abbas. While Israel has eased the blockade in recent years, key
restrictions remain in place on exports out of Gaza and the entry of badly
needed building materials into the territory.

The Palestinians are hopeful that Egypt’s new Islamist government will ease
its own restrictions on movement in and out of the territory. Egypt still
limits foot traffic through the Rafah border crossing. The militants also
hope to turn the Rafah terminal into a major cargo crossing.

In return, Israel wants an end to arms smuggling into Gaza. Iranian-made
weapons have made their way into Gaza through a circuitous route that ends
with underground tunnels along the Egyptian border.

An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not
authorized to discuss the negotiations with the media, said Israel is
prepared to take steps to help Gaza’s civilians but would be wary of doing
anything that could strengthen Hamas. In particular, he said the issue of
arms smuggling would be high on the agenda.

“Our assessment is that successfully preventing the rearmament of Hamas and
other groups is an integral element of maintaining long-term peace and
quiet,” the official said.

Yasser Othman, Egypt’s top diplomat in the West Bank, confirmed the talks
had begun.

Ghazi Hamad, a Hamas official in Gaza, said the group’s economics minister,
Ziad al-Zaza, was leading the Palestinian delegation. He gave no further
details, and it was unclear whether any timeline was imposed for
implementing the deal.

But militant leaders already have said they will not give up the vast
arsenals they have accumulated. In the recent fighting, Hamas and Islamic
Jihad unveiled new rockets capable of striking deep into the Israeli
heartland, in addition to anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons.

In an interview Monday, Islamic Jihad leader Ramadan Shallah said Iranian
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called him and Hamas Prime Minister, Ismail
Haniyeh, to offer congratulations after their battle with Israel.

“Iran has been providing us with the support we needed to defend ourselves
in the face of the Zionist occupation. Iran supported us militarily and
financially and with everything we need to stand steadfast on our land,” Mr.
Shallah said. “We appreciate that and hope that all the Arab countries do
the same.”

He also said he hoped the latest fighting would inspire Palestinians in the
West Bank to rise up against Israel as well.

Mr. Abbas, an outspoken critic of violence, has governed in the West Bank
since Hamas overthrew his forces in Gaza in 2007. The rival governments
repeatedly have failed to reconcile.

After four years of deadlock in peace efforts with Israel, Mr. Abbas this
week is asking the United Nations to grant the Palestinians upgraded
observer status and recognize a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza
Strip and east Jerusalem, territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast
war. The motion, largely symbolic, is expected to pass easily in the UN
General Assembly.

In a statement, Hamas announced that its supreme leader, Khaled Mashaal,
called Abbas to welcome the decision to go to the UN

Israeli officials – backed by the Obama administration – strongly oppose the
move in the belief it is an attempt to bypass negotiations, but they have
not said how they will respond.

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