Gaza: Talks for Israel ceasefire 'in final stages'
Talks mediated by the UN and Egypt over a deal to defuse tensions between Israel and the Gaza Strip are in "advanced stages," a Hamas official told Al Jazeera on Wednesday.
Similar remarks were made by a senior Israeli politician, indicating a breakthrough may have been made after four months of escalating confrontations that have been edging towards a full-scale offensive.
Gaza's residents have been protesting every week March 30 at the Israeli border fence, which have been violently suppressed by Israeli forces, primarily snipers firing live bullets at demonstrators.
Resentment has been bubbling over in the besieged enclave as the Israeli-Egyptian blockade, on top of funding cuts from the Palestinian Authority, leaves Gazans short of basic necessities and battling chronic unemployment due to the crippled economy.
The Israeli army has killed at least 158 Palestinians and thousands injured since protests began. Israel has also launched regular airstrikes on Hamas targets in the enclave resultsing in dozens of casualties.
One Israeli soldier has been killed. Israel has also lost tracts of forest and farmland to fires started by incendiary kites and helium balloons flown over the frontier. There have also been several, mostly bloodless shelling exchanges.
Neither Hamas nor Israel, who fought a devastating war in 2014, seem keen to launch another full-blown conflict.
"We can say that actions led by the United Nations and Egypt are in advanced stages and we hope it could yield some good from them," Khalil al-Hayya, deputy Hamas chief in Gaza, told Al Jazeera television.
"What is required is for calm to be restored along the border between us and the Zionist enemy [Israel]."
Israel has downplayed prospects for a comprehensive ceasefire, indicating they support a more limited quid-pro-quo.
Israeli officials said on Sunday that in return for calm in Gaza, they would reopen a commercial border terminal that had been closed during the recent unrest, and also pledged to expand the tightly-controlled Palestinian fishing zone.
Avi Dichter, the committee of the Israeli parliament's foreign affairs and defence committee, made cautiously positive remarks on Wednesday. "I very much hope that we are on the brink of a new day on the matter of Gaza," he told reporters.
Neither the UN nor Egypt have publicly given information on their proposals for Gaza, apart from stating that extensive economic relief is required for Gaza's 2 million residents, who are faced with debilitating unemployment levels and pitiful public utilities.
Hayya said foreign donors were raising "hundreds of millions of dollars" for electricity, water, health and job-creation projects in the enclave, but added that these "require stability."
However both sides are demanding detainee releases from the other which has slowed the process down.
Israel wants the return of the bodies of two soldiers killed in the last Gaza war, as well as two of its civilians who wandered into the enclave, in exchange for any copmrehensive peace deal with Hamas.
Hamas is in return demanding that Israel release Palestinian security prisoners, which Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's far-right coalition partners outright refuse.
"We want to free our brave prisoners and we have no objection to beginning now," Hayya said. "Let it be a prisoner swap deal, [Palestinian] prisoners in return for Zionist soldiers."
Netanyahu cancelled a trip to Colombia this week to be present for the Gaza negotiations. He is expected to meet with his security cabinet on Thursday for further discussions.
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