Egypt holds talks with Gaza Islamists on truce

22/03/2008 - 15:57

By Yusri Mohamed

ISMAILIA, Egypt (Reuters) - Egypt held talks on Saturdaywith representatives of Hamas and Islamic Jihad from theHamas-controlled Gaza Strip, part of a push for a truce betweenthe militant groups and Israel, officials said.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum in Gaza said Khaled al-Batshof Islamic Jihad was present as was Hamas official Jamal AbuHashem. The talks were held in government offices on theEgyptian side of the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza.

With U.S. backing, Egypt has been trying to negotiate acessation of hostilities between Israel and Gaza militants whofire rockets across the border into the Jewish state.

Barhoum said the Egyptians had informed the Palestinians ofconsultations "with several parties," and that the Palestinianswould now hold consultations at home.

An Egyptian source close to the talks said the Palestiniandelegation called for the release of 36 members of Hamasdetained in Egypt after Palestinian militants breached theborder in January.

"The Egyptians have promised to release the (Gazan)detainees in the near future. Hamas hopes that we will seedeeds and not only promises as we are highly concerned aboutthe continued detention and torture of detainees," Barhoumsaid.

Earlier this week, senior Hamas official Saeed Seyam saidin an interview posted online that detainees were tortured inEgyptian jails, and that interrogators wanted to know thelocation of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

Shalit, then 19, was captured by Palestinian gunmen in across-border raid into an Israeli army base in June 2006.

Hamas has said it will not release Shalit unless Israelfrees nearly 1,400 Palestinian prisoners, including 350 withlife sentences. Israel has rejected these terms.

The Egyptian source said Egypt had asked for an explanationof Seyam's claim that the detainees were tortured.

Local and international human rights groups say torture issystematic in Egyptian jails and police stations. Thegovernment says it opposes torture and prosecutes torturerswhen there is evidence.

The Egyptian source said the talks included the possibilityof a partial reopening of the Rafah crossing for two or threedays per week, until such time as it resumed normal operations,but gave no further details.

Hamas militants blew open Gaza's southern border wall withEgypt in January to break an Israeli-led siege on theterritory, home to 1.5 million Palestinians, allowingPalestinians to flood into Egypt to buy supplies. The borderhas been resealed.

Israel tightened restrictions at Gaza's crossings afterIslamist Hamas seized the territory from Palestinian PresidentMahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction in fighting in June. A ceasefireagreement could entail an easing of those measures.

(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi, writing by AzizEl-Kaissouni, editing by Janet Lawrence)

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