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Middle East

Gaza cease-fire extended for 24 hours to pursue negotiations

Palestinians flee their destroyed neighbourhood to take shelter in a United Nations school for the night in the northern Gaza Strip city of Beit Hanun, on August 18, 2014. AFP PHOTO / THOMAS COEX

GAZA CITY/CAIRO: Israeli and Palestinian officials said Monday they had agreed to extend a Gaza cease-fire by another 24 hours to allow time for the sides to continue indirect negotiations in Cairo for terms of a possible agreement.

“Both sides have agreed to a 24-hour cease-fire,” the official with the Palestinian delegation in Cairo said. The official Egyptian news agency MENA later quoted an “official Egyptian statement” confirming the cease-fire’s extension.

The negotiations center on an Egyptian proposal that meets some of the Palestinian demands, such as easing the blockade of Gaza, but defer other stumbling blocks to later negotiations.

Hamas had repeatedly warned it would not extend the cease-fire, pressing for immediate gains that would allow it to claim concessions from Israel after the devastating four-week war in July and August.

However, the militant group has come under pressure from both Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Egypt, which borders Gaza to the southwest.

Before the announcement of the extension, a senior member of the Palestinian delegation insisted there had been “progress,” with both sides demonstrating “a great degree” of flexibility.

“The Egyptians have submitted a draft that was met with a great degree of flexibility by both sides, the Israelis and Palestinians. There has been progress,” he told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity, saying the draft adopted the Palestinian demands, including that of an “airport and [sea] port.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that Israel would hit back hard if Palestinian rocket attacks from Gaza resume.

“We are ready for all scenarios ... the army is preparing for a very strong response if the firing [of rockets] resumes,” he said Monday.

“In the turbulent Middle East, you need a mixture of force and patience and the IDF [army] has a lot of both.”

Ahead of the deadline, Abbas was traveling to Doha for talks with Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal and the Qatari emir. Qatar is a key backer of Hamas.

The talks are focused on an Egyptian proposal for a lasting cease-fire, which postpones discussions on the thorniest issues, such as Hamas demands for a port and airport in Gaza, for another month.

Negotiations on exchanging the remains of two Israeli soldiers for the release of Palestinian prisoners would also be delayed for a month.

Following talks in Doha, Abbas will travel to Cairo later in the week to meet Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, a Palestinian official told AFP.

In an indication Israel was shifting its thinking away from a negotiated truce agreement, it began implementing a series of unilateral measures to ease conditions in Gaza.

Israel said it had lifted a total ban on fishing which had been in place since July 8 Sunday, allowing boats to go out to sea for up to three nautical miles.

Down at the fishing port, a few fishermen could be seen taking their boats out for an early catch, although they kept close to shore, well within the new limit, an AFP correspondent said.

Meanwhile, Gaza’s Health Ministry said the death toll from the fighting rose above 2,000 as more people died of their wounds.

The figures showed 2,016 people had been killed and 10,196 wounded.

Among the dead were 541 children, 250 women and 95 elderly men.

Separately, the Israeli army confirmed that five of its 64 dead soldiers were killed by “friendly fire.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 19, 2014, on page 1.

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Summary

Israeli and Palestinian officials said Monday they had agreed to extend a Gaza cease-fire by another 24 hours to allow time for the sides to continue indirect negotiations in Cairo for terms of a possible agreement.

The negotiations center on an Egyptian proposal that meets some of the Palestinian demands, such as easing the blockade of Gaza, but defer other stumbling blocks to later negotiations.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that Israel would hit back hard if Palestinian rocket attacks from Gaza resume.

The talks are focused on an Egyptian proposal for a lasting cease-fire, which postpones discussions on the thorniest issues, such as Hamas demands for a port and airport in Gaza, for another month.

Separately, the Israeli army confirmed that five of its 64 dead soldiers were killed by "friendly fire".


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