Egyptian intel chief visits Israel to discuss Gaza truce
JERUSALEM (AP) — Egypt’s intelligence chief on Wednesday paid a rare visit to Israel to discuss the cease-fire deal between Israel and the Hamas militant group that followed an 11-day war in May, Israel announced.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s office said Egyptian official Abbas Kamel also invited the Israeli leader to visit Egypt in the coming weeks.
Egypt has played a key mediation role between Israel and Hamas over the years. Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers are bitter enemies that have fought four wars since the Islamic militant group took control of Gaza in 2007, a year after winning Palestinian elections.
The most recent war ended in May, but the sides appear to have reached no agreements beyond a halt in fighting.
Hamas demands an easing in an Israeli-Egyptian blockade that has crippled the local economy and the resumption of hundreds of millions of dollars of badly needed assistance from Qatar. Israel has demanded the return of the remains of two soldiers killed in a 2014 war as well as two Israeli civilians believed to be held by Hamas.
Hamas in recent weeks allowed supporters to send incendiary balloons into Israel and more recently a rocket was fired into Israel this week, the first time since the war. Israel did not respond, a possible signal that diplomatic efforts are picking up.
Bennett, who often accused his predecessor, Benjamin Netanytahu, of being too soft on Hamas, came under criticism Wednesday for the show of restraint. But at a news conference, he defended his decision, saying he would not allow Israel’s enemies to determine its actions.
“We will react in the time, place and conditions that suit us,” he said.
Bennett’s office gave few details about Wednesday’s talks with Kamel, saying they focused on mutual security and economic issues as well as “Egyptian media in the Gaza security situation.”
Bennett said Kamel extended an invitation on behalf of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi. He gave no further details.
Later Wednesday, Kamel visited Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the occupied West Bank. Israel and the U.S. have said they would like to bolster Abbas in his rivalry with Hamas.
The Islamic militant group has controlled Gaza since ousting Abbas’ forces in 2007, a year after it defeated his Fatah party in Palestinian parliamentary elections.
Abbas’ office said that he and Kamel “reviewed the latest developments in the Palestinian territories, and ways to strengthen bilateral relations and achieve stability and peace in the region.”