Egypt and Israel were holding high-level talks in both countries Sunday to shore up a fragile truce between Israel and the Hamas terror group, and rebuild the Gaza Strip after a punishing 11-day war.
Gabi Ashkenazi, making the first visit to Cairo by an Israeli foreign minister since 2008, was meeting with Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shukry and other officials.
Arriving in Cairo on Sunday, Ashkenazi said his meetings would include "bilateral matters and the strengthening of economic and trade relations as well as improved mechanisms for the rehabilitation of Gaza under international supervision."
The Israeli Embassy in Cairo said Ashkenazi's meetings would also include discussions on the release of the bodies of two fallen IDF soldiers and two Israeli citizens being held by Hamas.
Israel has said it would not agree to any long-term agreement on Gaza that does not include a release of Israelis held in the Hamas-controlled enclave.
Meanwhile, Egypt's intelligence chief Abbas Kamel flew to Israel for talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian officials in the West Bank city of Ramallah, an Egyptian official said.
Kamel was to discuss with Netanyahu and the Palestinian Authority how to rebuild Gaza. He was then expected to meet with Hamas leaders.
The discussions with Israeli officials were expected to touch on a set of measures that would allow materials, electricity and fuel into the Gaza Strip, as well as the possible expansion of the maritime space allowed for Gaza fishermen, an Egyptian official said.
"The role of the Palestinian Authority is central in the talks," he said. "Egypt is seeking to have it deeply involved in the reconstruction process."
The Egyptian official, who had close knowledge of the proceedings that led to the cease-fire, spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to brief reporters.
The 11-day war killed more than 250 people, mostly Palestinians, and caused heavy destruction in the coastal territory. Preliminary estimates have put the damage in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Egypt was key in mediating a deal between the two sides.
The official said Egypt would offer guarantees that rebuilding funds will not find its way to Hamas, possibly going through an international committee led by Egypt or the United Nations that would oversee the spending.
Kamel will also discuss the situation in Jerusalem and ways to water down tensions in the holy city, including an ease of Israeli restrictions at the al-Aqsa Mosque and how to prevent the planned eviction of Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem.
The talks would also look into the possibility of a release of Palestinian prisoners in Israel in return for the four Israelis held by Hamas, the official said.
Egypt last week invited Israel, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority for separate talks in Cairo to consolidate the Cairo-mediated cease-fire and accelerate the reconstruction process in Gaza.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh was expected to visit Cairo this week, according to the group's spokesman Abdelatif al-Qanou, who also said Hamas is open to discussing a prisoner swap with Israel.
First published: 13:17 , 05.30.21