(AFP) – Jul 8, 2008
GAZA CITY (AFP) — A Hamas delegation was due in Cairo on Tuesday for talks on a fragile three-week-old Gaza truce as Israel said it would reopen its borders with the territory at the Egyptian mediator's request.
The delegation was to discuss details of the truce and what Hamas says are Israeli violations, as well as proposals for the reopening of a border crossing with Egypt -- Gaza's only one that bypasses Israel.
The truce was meant to lead to a gradual easing of a year-old blockade of Gaza imposed after Hamas seized power in June 2007, but Israel on Tuesday temporarily re-sealed the territory for the fourth time since the ceasefire went into effect on June 19.
Israel said it was closing the border crossings in retaliation for a mortar round fired from Gaza on Monday in breach of the truce.
But "following a special request by the Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, Defence Minister Ehud Barak ordered the re-opening of the crossings at around noon (0900 GMT)," Barak's office said in a statement.
Suleiman -- Egypt's pointman for Palestinian affairs -- was due to meet the Hamas delegation later in the day.
The issue of border closures was expected to figure prominently in the talks between Hamas and Egypt, which brokered the truce deal between Israel and the Islamist rulers of Gaza.
Since the truce went into effect, Israel has responded to rocket and mortar attacks by sealing off the overcrowded territory where a majority of the 1.5 million population depends on food aid.
Hamas has said its own fighters are adhering to the truce and insists it is doing its best to crack down on individuals and smaller armed groups who violate it.
Israel, for its part, insists it has not used military force since the ceasefire went into effect. But Palestinian and UN officials have accused Israeli troops of firing into the Gaza Strip since the truce and causing casualties. The army says it fired only warning shots.
The Cairo talks were also likely to address a proposed prisoner exchange between Hamas and Israel.
Israel wants the release of Corporal Gilad Shalit, a conscript held by Hamas since his capture in a deadly cross-border raid in June 2006.
The Islamist group wants the release of 1,000 Palestinians held in Israeli jails but said last week that it had suspended talks on the the proposed exchange in protest at the border closures.
Hamas has also been pushing for the reopening of the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt which has been rarely open since the Islamist takeover.
Hamas wants the crossing operated solely by Egyptian and Palestinian officials but Israel has said its operation must be governed by a 2005 agreement that provided for international and Israeli monitoring.
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