GAZA CITY, Palestine: Millions of people in Gaza and southern Israel Thursday enjoyed a welcome extension to a temporary truce despite a rocky start which saw a flurry of rocket fire and airstrikes.
Negotiators in Cairo brokered an 11th-hour extension to an existing truce by another five days to allow for continued negotiations on a long-term cease-fire in a conflict which has killed 1,962 Palestinians and 67 people on the Israeli side since July 8.
The Israeli army said six Palestinian rockets struck Israel during the night, including three after the new truce came into effect at midnight.
Israeli warplanes hit back with four airstrikes, Palestinian security officials told AFP, saying the skies fell silent at around 3 a.m.
“An agreement to extend the cease-fire for five days has been accepted by both sides to allow more time for negotiations,” an Egyptian Foreign Ministry statement said.
But on the ground, there was great uncertainty on both sides about whether the truce between Israel and Gaza’s Islamist de facto rulers would hold.
In Gaza City’s battered Shujaiyeh neighborhood, Mohammad Ibrahim Aateysh was brewing sweet mint tea inside his destroyed home with his family.
“The cease-fire is nonsense. We want stability in the country,” he said wearily.
“Not having to come and go every day. One day sleeping there, then one day coming back. As you can see my home is completely destroyed. Our whole life is now destroyed.”
And around 10,000 Israelis poured into downtown Tel Aviv in the evening, calling on the government and the army to end rocket attacks from Gaza once and for all.
Alon Davidi, mayor of the southern town of Sderot, told the rally there must be a solution – be it political or military – to what he called 14 years of rocket attacks.
“I have full confidence in the government and in the army, but at the same time I ask as mayor of Sderot that they put an end to this situation once and for all,” Davidi said.
“Finish the job!” he said. “This is a universal principle. We want to live in peace.”
Members of the crowd waved Israeli flags and held up banners calling for peace with the Palestinians and others scrawled with the words: “Occupy Gaza now!”
Israeli negotiators and various members of the Palestinian delegation have left Cairo for consultations with their respective bases.
Speaking to reporters in Gaza City, Hamas politburo member Khalil al-Haya said there was “still a real chance of reaching an agreement,” but only if Israel “would stop playing with words.”
If observed, the latest truce should herald potentially the longest period of calm in the five-week conflict and allow more time for talks on the thorniest issues separating the two sides.
An earlier truce collapsed in a firestorm of violence on Aug. 8.
Egyptian mediators have proposed that talks on a seaport and airport in Gaza be delayed until a month after a permanent cease-fire takes effect, according to documents seen by AFP.
Negotiations over the exchange of the remains of two dead Israeli soldiers for the release of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel would also be postponed.
An Israeli-imposed buffer zone inside the Gaza border would be gradually reduced, and eventually policed by forces under the command of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Israel has said it would facilitate Gaza’s reconstruction only if the enclave is fully disarmed, a demand rejected by the Palestinians.
Separately, Israeli police arrested 52 Palestinians in East Jerusalem overnight, taking to more than 600 the number of alleged rioters detained since unrest erupted in early July over the hate killing of a Palestinian teenager by Jewish extremists.