Hamas says Egypt may open border for Gaza rebuild

GAZA, Feb 3 (Reuters) - Egypt is considering opening its border crossing with the Gaza Strip to allow in reconstruction materials blocked by Israel after its 22-day offensive, Hamas said on Tuesday following a round of talks in Cairo.

Egypt is trying to broker a longer-term truce in the Gaza Strip under which both Israel and Hamas would hold their fire. Hamas has demanded that Israel lift its blockade of the enclave, but the Jewish state so far has balked at letting in materials like glass, steel and cement needed for reconstruction. Israeli officials assert that these materials could be used by Hamas to build rockets, bunkers and smuggling tunnels. Israel has conditioned fully lifting its blockade on the release of a soldier captured by Gaza militants in a 2006 cross-border raid.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said the Islamist group and Egyptian officials were discussing the possibility that Cairo would open the Rafah crossing on Gaza's southern border to allow in reconstruction materials and vehicles, as well as shelters for those made homeless by the Israeli bombardment.Barhoum said another round of talks over the ceasefire would convene later on Tuesday night.

In addition to trying to extend the shaky ceasefire, Egypt hoped to broker a reconciliation deal between Hamas Islamists in the Gaza Strip and the secular Fatah faction of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Western-backed government is based in the occupied West Bank.Cairo has proposed a meeting of the factions on Feb. 22. But Barhoum said Hamas was demanding that a committee be set up first to free "political prisoners" held by the rival groups to prepare the ground for reconciliation talks.

(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Writing by Adam Entous; Editing by Michael Roddy)


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