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World News

Hamas tells Egypt set to discuss Israel truce

GAZA (Reuters) - Hamas said on Friday it has told Egyptian officials it would consider a ceasefire with Israel if it lifted its blockade of the Gaza Strip and ceased military operations in all Palestinian territories.

Hamas also discussed with Egyptian officials this week the possibility of a prisoner deal that could lead to the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, seized by Hamas in a 2006 raid, in exchange for Israel freeing several hundreds of Palestinians from its jails, Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri said.

Sources close to Hamas said Egypt, which brokered a year-long truce between the Islamist group and Israel in 2005, had wanted to explore Hamas’s position before holding any possible talks with Israel.

Leading Hamas member Mahmoud al-Zahar travelled to Egypt on Thursday to resume talks with the Egyptian government about the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, which Hamas militants smashed open last month seeking relief from an Israeli blockade.

“Hamas said it has no objection to studying the issue if the Israeli occupation would stop all forms of aggression against our people and lift the siege,” Abu Zuhri said, reiterating Hamas’s position on a possible ceasefire.

Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in June after routing the forces of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s secular Fatah forces. Israel, which is pursuing peace talks with Abbas, has since tightened sanctions on Gaza.

Senior U.N. official John Holmes, who visited Gaza on Friday, said he found “a grim human and humanitarian situation” in the coastal enclave and called for the blockade to be lifted.

“People are not able to live with the basic dignity to which they are entitled ... What is essentially needed is an opening of the crossings ... so that people can start to live more normal and more dignified lives,” said Holmes, the Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator.

Palestinian militants blasted open the Rafah border wall with Egypt last month allowing hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to pour into Egyptian north Sinai to stock up on goods in short supply due to the Israeli-led blockade. The holes were closed several days later following Hamas-Egypt talks.

Abu Zuhri said Hamas and Egyptian officials discussed the possible reopening of the Rafah crossing, but said some issues had yet to be resolved.

Abbas has won some international support for a proposal to handle security at the crossing, but he wields little control in Gaza and Hamas has demanded a key role.

Writing by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Editing by Richard Williams

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