Israel and Hamas are in the late stages of negotiating a long-term deal that could see an easing of the Gaza conflict, Israeli newspapers reported Monday. The agreement would include a lifting of the heavy restrictions on Gaza's borders in exchange for a commitment from Hamas to end attacks on Israel, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported.
While lengthy ceasefires between the two warring parties have been negotiated in the past, they have not included long-term agreements that would improve the dire situation of civilians on the ground. The current deal would see thousands of permits issued to Gazan day laborers to work in Israel, as well as the construction of a port to allow for greater export and import to and from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. Ships would first pass through Cyprus, where they would be examined by Turkish or NATO authorities. In exchange, Hamas would have to end rocket fire and tunneling into Israel.
Rumors of an agreement between the two parties have been circulating in the Israeli press for weeks, but recent statements by Turkish officials involved in the negotiations seemed to indicate that real progress has been made, Haaretz reported Monday. Any long-term agreement between the two parties would include a 10-year ceasefire, Arab media outlets said.
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Gaza has seen repeated wars and heavy restrictions on its border since Hamas, considered a terrorist organization by Israel and the U.S., won a popular election in 2006. Citing security reasons, Israel imposed severe limitations on imports into Hamas-controlled Gaza. Politicians said the restrictions were necessary to prevent Hamas from building weapons that could be used to attack Israel, while human rights organizations and Palestinian leaders blamed restrictions for devastating the strip's economy.
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is reportedly mediating the accord, and Hamas is negotiating in partnership with its backers Turkey and Qatar. The news comes as Saudi Arabia seeks to form an alliance of Sunni states to counter Iran's growing influence in the region. It is believed an agreement could also lead to improved relations between Turkey and Israel, which have deteriorated greatly in recent years as the Turkish government has publicly denounced Israel's policies toward Gaza.