CAIRO: A Hamas team arrived in Cairo on Sunday for talks with Egyptian mediators on a possible truce in Gaza, an airport official and state news agency MENA said.
Israel has begun withdrawing some ground troops from the Gaza Strip and redeploying others but operations against Hamas would continue, an army spokesman told Agence France-Presse on also Sunday.
The Hamas delegation is led by senior Hamas official Ezzat al-Rishq, the sources said.
Egypt, the traditional broker in conflicts between Israel and Hamas, had invited Israeli and Palestinian negotiators to gather in Cairo to thrash out a durable truce in Gaza based on an Egyptian ceasefire proposal.
Israel, however, has said it will not send anyone to the talks.
“Hamas has proven that it breaches any agreement reached right away, as happened five times in previous truces,” Israel’s deputy foreign minister Tzahi HaNegbi told AFP on Saturday.
“It is therefore unclear at this stage what benefit Israel might see for participating in an attempt to reach agreements, based on the Egyptian initiative,” he added.
Another Palestinian team, including the Palestinian Authority’s spy chief Majid Faraj, arrived late on Saturday for the negotiations, which are expected to start later on Sunday.
Representatives of militant group Islamic Jihad are also expected in the Egyptian capital as is US Middle East envoy Frank Lowenstein and the Middle East Quartet’s peace envoy Tony Blair.
The talks will focus on ways to end the conflict in Gaza, which has so far claimed more than 1,700 Palestinian lives and displaced up to a quarter of the territory’s population.
Sixty-four Israeli soldiers have died since the Jewish state on July 8 launched an offensive to halt rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, the army’s heaviest toll since the 2006 war against the Lebanese Hezbollah.
The Palestinians are expected to press their demands for the end of an eight-year blockade of Gaza and the release of Palestinian prisoners.
Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said on Saturday that an Egyptian truce plan provided a “real chance” to end the Gaza conflict.
When the latest Gaza war erupted last month, Egypt cobbled together a ceasefire proposal, quickly backed by Israel, Arab governments, the United States and the United Nations.
Hamas, however, rejected it, saying it hadn’t been consulted.
Israel offensive to continue
Israel’s military said it will continue with its military operations.
“We are removing some [forces], we are changing from within,” Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner said, describing it as “an ongoing mission.”
“We are redeploying within the Gaza Strip and taking out other different positions, and relieving other forces from within, so it won’t be the same type of ground operation,” he told AFP.
“But indeed we will continue to operate . . . [and]have a rapid reaction force on the ground that can engage Hamas if required,” he added.
His remarks came a day after the Israeli army gave a first indication it was ending operations in parts of Gaza, informing residents of Beit Lahiya and Al-Atatra in the north that it was “safe” to return home.
Witnesses in the north confirmed seeing troops leaving the area as others were seen pulling out of villages east of Khan Yunis in the south.
It was the first time troops had been seen pulling back since the start of the Israeli operation which began on July 8.
Lerner confirmed troops had pulled out of Beit Lahiya and Al-Atatra, but refused to be drawn on whether the pullout would expand into other areas hit by heavy fighting.
“The reality is that Hamas has tried to continue its attacks so we need to maintain our presence to a certain extent and combat those intentions,” he said.
“In the next 24 hours we will see the activity continued on the ground and the redeployment in parallel,” he said, without elaborating.