CAIRO (AFP) – An Israeli delegation arrived in Cairo on Tuesday for indirect talks with Palestinians on a long-term Gaza truce, hours after Israeli soldiers killed two suspects in the June murder of three Jewish teenagers.
The Israeli army operation in the West Bank city of Hebron in which the two Palestinians died in an exchange of fire had threatened to derail the scheduled negotiations in Cairo.
Israel says the militants, Amer Abu Eisha and Marwan Qawasmeh, were behind the murder of the teenagers that led to weeks of simmering violence which culminated in a 50-day war between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza.
Senior Hamas negotiator Ezzat al-Rishq told AFP the Palestinian team had been headed to the headquarters of the Egyptian intelligence service which mediates the talks when they learned of the Hebron incident and had turned back in protest.
“The talks have been delayed by two hours,” Rishq said, condemning what he called the “assassination” of Abu Eisha and Qawasmeh.
The Israeli delegation arrived earlier on Tuesday, said an official at Cairo airport.
Tuesday’s meeting is expected to set a timetable for further negotiations after the Muslim Aidiladha holiday in the first week of October, a Palestinian official said.
On August 26, both sides reached a ceasefire that ended the Gaza conflict, which killed more than 2,140 Palestinians, most of them civilians, and 73 on the Israeli side, mostly soldiers, with an agreement to start negotiations in a month on unresolved issues.
These include the construction of a seaport and restoring the territory’s airport, and exchanging Palestinian prisoners for the remains of Israeli soldiers.
Hamas, an extremist militant movement designated as a terrorist group by the United States, Israel and the European Union, will also hold separate negotiations in Cairo with the Fatah faction of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.
The factions agreed a unity government in June to end a seven-year rift that left Hamas in control of Gaza, but the extremists remain the de facto rulers of the coastal enclave.
The talks will focus on the transfer of power in Gaza to the national unity government and on security in the enclave, a member of the Fatah delegation said.