NEW DELHI (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday called the 72-hour ceasefire agreed to by Israel and Hamas in their conflict in the Gaza Strip a “lull of opportunity” and said it was imperative that the sides make their best efforts to find common ground.
Kerry said Egypt’s foreign minister will invite the Gaza ceasefire parties to take part in “serious” negotiations in Cairo and that the United States plans to send a small delegation to the talks.
Kerry called the ceasefire “precious time.”
“It is a lull of opportunity, a moment for the different factions to be able to come together with the state of Israel in an effort to try to address ways to find a sustainable ceasefire and then obviously, over a longer period of time, address the underlying issues,” Kerry told reporters.
Kerry said while the United States is grateful that the violence and bloodshed can stop for more than 24 hours, “it is up to the parties, all of them, to take advantage of this moment.”
“There are no guarantees. This is a difficult, complicated issue, years and years in the building, and I think everybody knows it has not been easy to get to this point. Everybody knows it will not be easy to get beyond this point, but it is imperative people make the best effort to try to find common ground and do so,” Kerry added.
A senior U.S. State Department official said the Gaza talks could start as early as Friday, depending on how long it takes the parties to reach Cairo. The official said representatives from Israel and the United States will not sit across the table from Hamas in Cairo.
The official said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will be responsible for naming the Palestinian delegation for Cairo, but will not attend the talks.
Kerry said that as soon as the ceasefire is underway, Egypt will issue invitations to the parties to come to Cairo immediately in order to engage in serious and focused negotiations with Egypt to address the underlying causes of the conflict. Kerry said he hoped and expected that both sides in the conflict will raise all the topics of concern.
He added that the parties need to find a way to address Israel’s security concerns and to ensure that the people of Gaza can live in safety and dignity.
Israel and Islamist militant group Hamas agreed to the 72-hour ceasefire in their conflict starting on Friday, Kerry and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said earlier.
Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Jim Loney and Sandra Maler