Israel and Hamas begin indirect Gaza ceasefire talks

Palestinian school children walk in the rubble left days after an Israeli strike destroyed the Hamas interior ministry in Gaza City Analysts have warned of further violence if underlying issues are not addressed

Representatives of Israel and Hamas have begun indirect talks about the implementation of the ceasefire deal that ended the recent violence in Gaza.

The negotiations are being led by Egyptian intermediaries in Cairo.

Hamas is expected to press for an end of the Israeli blockade on Gaza, while Israel wants arms smuggling to cease.

At least 158 Palestinians and six Israelis were killed in the eight-day offensive which Israel said it launched to stop rocket-fire from the territory.

Under the terms of the initial ceasefire, agreed on Wednesday, Israel agreed to end all hostilities and targeted killings, while Hamas agreed to stop attacks against Israel and along the Gaza border fence.

The deal also called for the "opening the crossings and facilitating the movement of people and transfer of goods", with the timing other details to be discussed "after 24 hours" of the ceasefire coming into effect.

UN bid

Israeli negotiators are reported to be asking for an assurance that the smuggling of weapons under Gaza's southern border with Egypt will end.

"Israel is proposing this, no doubt," Hamas deputy political leader Moussa Abu Marzouk told the AFP news agency.

"But at no stage was it part of the understanding for a ceasefire. They proposed it in the media, but not during the talks," he said.

Meanwhile, Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal has telephoned the Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas, to say the Islamist movement "welcomed" his bid to have Palestine recognised as a "non-member observer state" at the United Nations.

The announcement by Hamas was unexpected. Its leaders have previously dismissed the UN approach as a waste of time.

Mr Abbas has said he will push for a vote on the issue at the UN General Assembly on Thursday. If it is approved - as it expected to be - it will improve the Palestinians' chances of joining UN agencies and the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Currently, the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), the umbrella group which represents most Palestinian factions and conducts negotiations with Israel, only has "permanent observer" status at the UN.

Israel and the US have threatened financial penalties if the Palestinians press ahead with the UN bid, saying the only way to achieve an independent state is through negotiations.

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