JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s finance minister confirmed on Tuesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Egypt in May to discuss a long-term ceasefire in the Gaza Strip.
A spokesman for Netanyahu had declined to comment on the meeting after it was first reported on Monday by Israel’s Channel Ten News.
Egypt and the United Nations have been trying to mediate a long-term truce between Israel and Hamas, the Islamist group that rules Gaza, following a spike in cross-border violence in the past few months.
The two leaders discussed the easing of an Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza, rehabilitation of its infrastructure and terms for a ceasefire, the Channel Ten report said.
Asked on Israeli Army Radio whether he had known of the meeting, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon replied “Yes.” He added that “everything that will happen in Gaza will be done with Egyptian mediation and involvement”.
More than two million Palestinians are packed into the Gaza Strip, which is experiencing deep economic hardship. The World Bank has described the situation as a humanitarian crisis with shortages of water, electricity and medicine.
Citing security concerns, Israel and Egypt keep tight restrictions on their border crossings with Gaza, which have reduced the enclave’s economy to a state of collapse.
Israel says the blockade is intended to prevent weapons reaching Hamas and other Gaza militant groups that have launched hundreds of rockets across the border in the past few months, during which time Israel has also carried out dozens of air strikes, targeting what it said were Hamas sites.
At least 161 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli gunfire in weekly protests along the Israel-Gaza border that began on March 30, and one Israeli soldier has been killed by a Palestinian sniper.
(Reporting by Maayan Lubell, Editing by Jeffrey Heller, William Maclean)