25 Jan 2009

Talks planned to try and consolidate Gaza truce

9:51 pm on 25 January 2009

Members of the Islamist group Hamas are due to meet Egyptian officials to discuss ways of consolidating the fragile truce in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas which controls Gaza declared a temporary halt to fighting a week ago shortly after Israel announced a unilateral ceasefire.

Representatives from the rival Fatah faction are also due in Egypt to restart reconciliation talks.

About 1,300 Palestinians were killed in Israel's 22-day operation in Gaza.

Thirteen Israelis, three of them civilians, were killed during the same period.

Egypt has long acted as a go-between for Israel and the Palestinians.

Israel refuses to negotiate directly with Hamas, which it sees as a terrorist organisation.

Egypt's state news agency says the Egyptian intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, will meet a delegation from Hamas, following his talks with an Israeli envoy in Cairo last Thursday.

The aim is to stabilise the ceasefire by reaching a truce agreement.

To satisfy Hamas, this would have to include plans to reopen Gaza's border crossings.

Gaza schools reopen

Schools reopened in Gaza on Saturday for the first time since Israel's 22-day offensive.

The pupils were seeing their teachers for the first time since Israel bombs began falling on Gaza on 27 December.

Many of the schools were used as evacuation centres during the three-week war.

The BBC reports the United Nations operates more than 200 schools in Gaza, with more than 200,000 pupils.

The reopening follows a decision by Israel on Friday to lift a ban on UN and foreign aid workers entering the Gaza Strip.

Obama envoy expected in Middle East next week

US President Barack Obama plans to dispatch his Middle East envoy to the region next week, as part of the new administration's efforts to revive Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking and shore up a shaky Gaza truce.

The envoy, former US Sen. George Mitchell, was expected to make stops in Egypt, Israel, the occupied West Bank and Jordan, but not to have direct contact with Hamas Islamists, reports Reuters.

Israel's refusal to fully lift its blockade of the coastal enclave has thrown into doubt the future of the ceasefire and post-war reconstruction.