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Abbas heads to Turkey as Gaza truce talks stall

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas was to head to Turkey on Friday to push a ceasefire in Gaza after Egyptian-mediated negotiations stalled and Israel launched a ground operation.

Cairo has been the hub of intense negotiations to end the 11-day conflict between Hamas and Israel, after the Palestinian militants in Gaza rejected an initial Egyptian truce proposal.

Egypt, under recently-elected President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, has moved to isolate Hamas, accusing it of backing insurgents on its own territory.

It has worked instead to bolster the role of Abbas -- its ally based in the West Bank and rival to Hamas -- in reaching a deal to end the conflict, which has cost more than 260 Palestinian lives since it broke out on July 8.

A senior official with Abbas said the talks, which extended into Thursday night, had stalled over Hamas's insistence on guarantees from Israel before its militants halt their cross-border rocket fire.

Amid the diplomatic flurry in Cairo, Abbas was due to meet French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius before heading to Turkey, which has ties with both Hamas and Israel, said the official, Azzam al-Ahmed.

Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini was also expected in Cairo.

Abbas held talks with Hamas deputy leader Mussa Abu Marzuq in Cairo on Thursday along with Egyptian mediators, Ahmed said.

Abu Marzuq insisted Israel release Palestinian prisoners it had freed but re-arrested and lift its siege of Gaza, Ahmed told AFP.

"Egypt proposed that Israel open the crossings after the ceasefire," Ahmed said. "Hamas wants it now, they don't think the Israelis will respect this later."

Israel's overnight ground incursion raised the stakes in a game of brinksmanship between Hamas and the Jewish state, which had accepted the initial Egyptian truce proposal on Tuesday.

Egypt's foreign ministry has condemned the ground incursion but it also lashed out at Hamas, saying the Islamist movement could have saved dozens of lives had it accepted Cairo's proposal.

According to analysts, Sisi, who ousted Egypt's ruling Muslim Brotherhood last year, has sought to corner Hamas, its ally in Gaza, and deny the movement a victory in the conflict with Israel.

But Hamas's rejection of an unconditional ceasefire has forced Cairo to deal with the movement in an effort to defuse the escalating war at its doorstep.

Egypt, which has a peace treaty with Israel, shares borders with both the Jewish state and Gaza.

Israel has blockaded the coastal strip since Gaza militants kidnapped an Israeli soldier in 2006 and then Hamas expelled Abbas's Fatah party from the enclave in a week of bloody clashes.

Abbas and Hamas have agreed on a unity government of technocrats to end their seven-year split, but the deal has faltered over funding and power-sharing disputes.

- Political damage -

Analysts said Egypt's initial truce initiative had bypassed the Islamist movement but Sisi's government had believed a cornered Hamas would accept the ceasefire.

However, Israel's ground operation, which risks even higher Palestinian civilian casualties and regional condemnation, could be politically damaging, said analyst Michael Hanna.

"The next question is: are the Israelis and Egyptians prepared to withstand the pressures that would be created by a ground operation?" said Hanna, an Egypt expert with the Century Foundation think-tank based in New York.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/140718/abbas-heads-turkey-gaza-truce-talks-stall