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Middle East

Israel ready to 'extend Gaza truce unconditionally’

© David Buimovitch, AFP / Israeli soldiers by their tank outside the Gaza strip

Video by Matthieu MABIN , Gallagher FENWICK

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-08-07

Israel said Wednesday it was ready to extend a 72-hour ceasefire in the Gaza Strip unconditionally as Egyptian mediators accelerated efforts to broker a long-term peace. But Hamas denied that any deal had been struck on an extension of the truce.

Guns fell silent in the tiny Palestinian enclave on Tuesday morning, allowing millions of people on both sides to breathe a sigh of relief after the deaths of 1,875 Palestinians and 67 on the Israeli side.

With the truce due to expire at 5am (GMT) on Friday morning, Egyptian mediators shuttled between Israeli and Palestinian delegations in Cairo, conveying conflicting demands for a long-term calm.

"Israel has no problem extending the ceasefire unconditionally," an Israeli official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

But Hamas denied that any agreement had been reached on an extension of the truce.

Hamas deputy leader Mussa Abu Marzuq, part of the Palestinian delegation holding talks in Cairo, denied that a deal was in the works.

"There is no agreement to extend the ceasefire," he wrote on Twitter.

"Any news about the extension of the truce is unfounded," added Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri.

A spokeswoman for the Israeli army confirmed earlier that 27,000 reservists called up for the conflict had been sent home, leaving a force of 55,000 still on active duty, in another sign of growing hopes for long-term quiet.

‘Talks are moving forward’

Egypt’s intelligence chief met a Palestinian delegation in Cairo, the state news agency MENA said, a day after he conferred with Israeli representatives. The Palestinian team, led by an official from Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party, includes envoys from Hamas and the Islamic Jihad group.

“The indirect talks between the Palestinians and Israelis are moving forward,” one Egyptian official said, making clear that the opposing sides were not meeting face to face. “It is still too early to talk about outcomes but we are optimistic.”

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri told reporters his country was working hard for a deal and sought “solutions to protect the Palestinian people and their interests”.

An Israeli official said Israel “has expressed its readiness to extend the truce under its current terms” beyond a Friday deadline for the three-day deal that took effect on Tuesday.

Hamas had no immediate comment. But a senior official with the Islamist group’s armed wing threatened earlier to quit the talks without progress towards achieving its demands to lift a Gaza blockade and free prisoners held by Israel.

“Unless the conditions of the resistance are met, the negotiating team will withdraw from Cairo and then it will be up to the resistance in the field,” a senior commander of the armed wing told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Israel ‘will not hesitate’ to use force

Israel’s armed forces chief, Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz, said in televised remarks that should Hamas disrupt the calm, “we will not hesitate to continue to use our force wherever necessary and with whatever force necessary to ensure the security of Israeli citizens near and far.”

Israel withdrew ground forces from tiny, densely populated Gaza on Tuesday morning and started a 72-hour, Egyptian-brokered ceasefire with Hamas as a first step towards a long-term deal.

It showed signs of expecting the truce to last by lifting official emergency restrictions on civilians living in Israel’s south near Gaza, permitting more public activities and urging everyone to resume their routines.

Streets in towns in southern Israel, which had been under daily rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, were filled again with playing children. The military said that two rocket-warning sirens sounded in the south proved to be false alarms.

In Gaza, where some half-million people have been displaced by a month of bloodshed, some residents left UN shelters to trek back to neighbourhoods where whole blocks have been destroyed by Israeli shelling and the smell of decomposing bodies fouls the air.

Kerry: ‘Hamas must give up rockets’

US Secretary of State John Kerry, in an interview on the BBC’s HARDtalk programme, also spoke of a need for Hamas to decommission its rocket arsenal.

“What we want to do is support the Palestinians and their desire to improve their lives and to be able to open crossings and get food in and reconstruct and have greater freedom,” Kerry said. “But that has to come with a greater responsibility towards Israel, which means giving up rockets, moving into a different plane.”

Kerry said, however, that all this would “finally come together” as part of wider Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking.

He has spearheaded such peace efforts but they collapsed in April over Israeli opposition to a unity deal between Hamas and the Fatah-led Palestine Liberation Organization and over Israel’s reneging on a pledge to free further Palestinian prisoners.

Netanyahu welcomed Kerry’s remarks, calling them “very important”. He also told reporters in Jerusalem he saw a chance for “important parties in the Middle East to be able to fashion a new reality” he thought might yield a “sustainable peace or at least a sustainable quiet that can lead to other things”.

Netanyahu also saw a role for Abbas in a post-war Gaza, answering when asked about it that “we have cooperated and are cooperating with the Palestinian Authority” about the issue.

Hamas, a powerful rival to the Palestinian Authority and in control of Gaza since 2007, has ruled out giving up its weapons.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

Date created : 2014-08-06

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