Israeli, Egyptian officials meet in effort to solidify Gaza truce

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CAIRO/JERUSALEM (Reuters) -Egypt's foreign minister stressed during a meeting with his Israeli counterpart on Sunday the need to build on a truce between Israel and Hamas by stopping all practices that lead to escalation, the Foreign Ministry said.

Egypt helped broker the May 21 truce to halt the worst fighting in years between Israel and Hamas, the Islamist group that rules Gaza, and is working with the United States and regional partners to expand it into a more permanent ceasefire.

Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry affirmed in his meeting with Gabi Ashkenazi in Cairo "the need to take into account the special sensitivity associated with East Jerusalem, Al-Aqsa Mosque and all Islamic and Christian holy sites", the Egyptian statement said.

Clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinians around the mosque during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan helped trigger the conflict this month.

Egypt reiterated its call for creating an appropriate atmosphere to revive talks between Israelis and Palestinians with the aim of reaching a two-state solution, the statement added.

In Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hosted Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel. Netanyahu said his meeting dealt with regional security issues and ways to prevent Hamas from siphoning off civilian aid to strengthen its capabilities.

Palestinian officials have put reconstruction costs at tens of millions of dollars from Israeli strikes in Gaza, where medical officials said 248 people were killed during 11 days of fighting. Israel is also repairing damage caused by Palestinian rockets and missiles, which killed 13 people in Israel.

Kamel also met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on Sunday and handed him a message from Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi affirming Egyptian support to Palestinians and Abbas, state news agency MENA said.

Ashkenazi, whose trip to Cairo was the first such visit in 13 years, said he would discuss with Egyptian officials "establishing a permanent ceasefire with Hamas," along with ways to help rebuild Gaza.

Both Netanyahu and Ashkenazi said a key aim for Israel was to secure the return of two Israeli civilians and the remains of two soldiers held for years in Gaza. Hamas has refused to hand them over.

In tweets after the meeting, Ashkenazi called Egypt an important regional ally committed to peace in the region, adding: "We all need to act to prevent strengthening extremist elements that threaten regional stability, and to ensure the return home of the missing persons and prisoners held by Hamas".

Sisi directed Egyptian officials to continue efforts and meetings to solve the problem of prisoners and missing people between Israel and Hamas, MENA reported on Sunday.

Egypt's work to broker and secure the truce has thrust it into the diplomatic spotlight, prompting top-level reengagement from Washington and overshadowing moves by several Arab states to normalise ties with Israel.

(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch and Mahmoud MouradAdditional reporting by Ahmed Tolba Editing by Peter Graff and Frances Kerry)