Israel demands 'clear' security answer
Jerusalem - Israel will not agree to any long-term ceasefire in Gaza at indirect talks in Cairo unless its security needs are clearly met, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday.
"The Israeli delegation in Cairo is acting with a very clear mandate to stand firmly on Israel's security needs," Netanyahu told ministers at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.
"Only if there is a clear answer to Israel's security needs, only then will we agree to reach an understanding," he said, as Israel's negotiating team made its way back to Cairo for indirect talks with the Palestinians over a long-term arrangement to end more than a month of bloodshed in Gaza.
The Egyptian-brokered talks, which resumed on Sunday, are taking place during a five-day lull in the fighting between Israeli and Gaza's Hamas de facto rulers which is due to expire at midnight (21:00 GMT) on Monday.
Israel has demanded the demilitarisation of Gaza as its condition for facilitating any reconstruction in the battered enclave, swathes of which have been reduced to rubble by the military offensive which began on 8 July.
The Palestinians have rejected any call to disarm Gaza and are pushing for Israel to lift its eight-year blockade on the coastal territory. They also want the establishment of a sea port and an airport.
In Gaza, Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri said the Palestinians would not back down from their demands.
"We are committed to achieving the Palestinian demands and there is no way back from this. All these demands are basic human rights that do not need this battle or these negotiations," Abu Zuhri told AFP.
"The ball is in the Israeli occupation's court."
But in a sign that the gaps between the two sides are unlikely to be bridgeable, Netanyahu warned that Hamas would not chalk up any diplomatic successes in Cairo.
"If Hamas thinks it will make up for its military losses with a political achievement, it is wrong," he said.
"If Hamas thinks that by continuing the steady trickle of rocket fire it will force us to make concessions, it is wrong," he said.
Ahead of Sunday's cabinet meeting, ministers insisted there would be no long-term truce agreement, nor would the Palestinians win Israel's agreement to the establishment of a port or airport without Gaza first being disarmed.
"We have to insist on the matter of demilitarisation," Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz told reporters.
"A sea port and or an airport without demilitarisation is like a duty free for missiles and rockets," he said.
"So far, many Grad [rockets] and Fajar missiles have been smuggled into Gaza and we don't want to find ourselves in a situation where Scud missiles are being smuggled into Gaza through the port," he said.
Top diplomats from the European Union said on Friday that a durable ceasefire must mean "all terrorist groups in Gaza must disarm" in a statement welcomed by Israel's foreign ministry which said it was the only way to ensure a "fundamental change" of the situation.
"There won't be reconstruction without Gaza's demilitarisation, and there won't be a ceasefire without quiet for those in the south," Finance Minister Yair Lapid told reporters.
Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, a cabinet hardliner, called for an immediate end to the talks in Cairo, urging Israel to implement its own unilateral initiative thereby avoiding the need to sign any form of agreement with Hamas.
"Any agreement which ties our hands will just speed up the next war," he said in a statement.