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US to address Hamas demands only after cease-fire, Kerry says

US Secretary of State John Kerry (left) and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi met Tuesday in Cairo.

US STATE DEPARTMENT/EPA

US Secretary of State John Kerry (left) and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi met Tuesday in Cairo.

CAIRO — Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday said that the United States was prepared to address the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip and the political demands of the Palestinians living there, but that a cease-fire first needed to be carried out.

After a two-hour meeting with President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi of Egypt, Kerry said Egypt’s cease-fire proposal had provided the framework for discussions on how to arrange one.

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Kerry said his meetings here had been constructive. But there was no indication of an imminent breakthrough in cementing a cease-fire deal, and Kerry indicated that he expected his deliberations to continue for the next few days.

From the start, State Department officials have signaled that the United States is hoping to quickly arrange a cease-fire and avoid being dragged into detailed discussions about the political demands of Hamas, the militant organization that governs Gaza and that Israel has been targeting since the latest hostilities broke out two weeks ago.

Hamas’ demands include opening a major border crossing with Egypt and the release of prisoners held by the Israelis. Discussions of them might be unavoidable, officials say, particularly because demands to open the border crossings were addressed in a 2012 cease-fire agreement.

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“There may be an element of ironing out and nailing down a little bit more on the crossings as a part of our effort to get to a cease-fire as soon as possible,” a senior State Department official told reporters Monday. He spoke on the condition of anonymity in keeping with the agency’s protocol for briefing the news media.

That approach appears to be generally consistent with Egypt’s proposal.

Sketching out a two-stage process, Sameh Shoukry, Egypt’s foreign minister, told Kerry at the start of their meeting Tuesday morning that he hoped that Kerry’s visit would result in a cease-fire “that provides the necessary security for the Palestinian people,” and that “medium- and long-term” issues on Gaza’s future could be addressed after the fighting stopped.

With no contact and little leverage with Hamas, Kerry has been relying on Egypt, Qatar and Turkey to use their influence. Egypt has the power to open the Rafah border crossing, while Qatar is a major financial contributor to Hamas.

But it remained unclear whether the United States and its partners were making any headway in trying to persuade Hamas to agree to a cease-fire.

“Hamas has a fundamental choice to make, and it is a choice that will have a profound impact for the people of Gaza,” Kerry said. “And the Egyptians have provided a framework and a forum for them to be able to come to the table to have a serious discussion together with other factions of the Palestinians.”

Kerry’s comments came in a joint appearance with Shoukry, and both declined to take questions.

In addition to the Egyptian president and foreign minister, Kerry met with Majid Faraj, the intelligence chief for the Palestinian Authority, and was scheduled to meet Tuesday night with Gen. Mohamed Farid el-Tohamy, the head of Egyptian intelligence.

Kerry has also spoken by phone several times in recent days with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and with Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank. He has also spoken recently to his counterparts from Jordan, Qatar, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.

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