CAIRO – The European Union offered Friday to take charge of Gaza's border crossings and work to prevent illegal arms flows, insisting on a durable truce and saying a return to the status quo for the region "is not an option."
As EU foreign ministers held an urgent meeting in Brussels about global conflicts, Hamas negotiators met with the Islamic militant group's leadership in Qatar to discuss a proposal for a long-term truce with Israel. An official said the group was inclined to accept the Egyptian-mediated offer.
The Gaza blockade remains the main stumbling block. It has greatly limited the movement of Palestinians in and out of the territory of 1.8 million people, restricted the flow of goods into Gaza and blocked virtually all exports.
The EU ministers offered to reactivate and potentially extend its monitoring of Rafah and other border crossings -- if given a mandate by the U.N. Security Council and if it helps living conditions improve in Gaza.
In a statement, they said they could also work to prevent arms smuggling and launch a training program for Palestinian Authority police and customs officers to be deployed in Gaza. They said terrorist groups in Gaza must disarm and an overall peace deal remains the main objective.
"The situation in the Gaza Strip has been unsustainable for many years and a return to the status quo prior to the latest conflict is not an option," they said.
Israel and Hamas are observing a five-day temporary cease-fire in an attempt to allow indirect talks in Cairo to continue. The negotiations are meant to secure a substantive end to the monthlong Gaza war and draw up a roadmap for the coastal territory, which has been hard-hit in the fighting.
Hamas is demanding the lifting of the blockade Israel and Egypt imposed after the militant group seized power in Gaza in 2007.
The proposal is believed to include the lifting of some restrictions, with Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' forces assuming responsibility for border crossings under new arrangements with Egypt.
Israeli officials have said little about the negotiations, saying only that the country's security needs must be met.
Representatives of Palestinian factions in Cairo said progress was being made. A Hamas official said his group had all but accepted the offer and was currently finalizing the wording.
"The proposed agreement states in many places that lifting the blockade will come through measures and mechanisms agreed upon between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and this means Israel will always have the upper hand, and might return the situation on the crossings back to the way it used to be before the war," he said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because the negotiations were still ongoing.
He said the emerging deal would end hostilities and answer some immediate Hamas needs, including providing materials for reconstruction.
Israel says the blockade is necessary to prevent arms smuggling, and officials are reluctant to make any concessions that would allow Hamas to declare victory.
Israel, meanwhile, has demanded that Hamas be disarmed -- a non-starter for the militant group -- or at the very least be prevented from re-arming.
Hamas has recovered from previous rounds of violence with Israel, including a major three-week air and ground operation in January 2009 and another weeklong air offensive in 2012. It still has an arsenal of several thousand rockets, some of which can reach major cities deep inside Israel.
The current cease-fire is the longest to be declared since the war broke out last month. The fighting has so far killed more than 1,900 Palestinians, the majority of them civilians, according to Palestinian and U.N. officials. Israel has lost 67 people, all but three of them soldiers.