US Secretary of State John Kerry held talks on a possible long-term ceasefire in Gaza with the foreign ministers of Qatar and Turkey – major state supporters of Hamas – as well as France, Britain and Germany in Paris on Saturday.
The talks went ahead as thousands of people took part in a pro-Palestinian rally in the French capital despite a police ban on the gathering.
The top diplomats called after the talks for the extension of a 12-hour humanitarian ceasefire.
“All of us call on the parties to extend the humanitarian ceasefire that is currently under way,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said after the meeting.
Israel agreed to extend the ceasefire by 24 hours. But a Hamas spokesman said the Islamist group rejected the extension of the truce.
No representatives from Israel, Egypt or the Palestinian Authority were at the Paris talks. But an Israeli security minister, Gilad Erdan, said a definitive deal on the permanent cessation of hostilities looked remote.
The deputy leader of Islamic Jihad, a militant Islamist group allied to Hamas, said Egypt’s mediation efforts were still being considered. But he added that his group was still looking for improvements to the deal and that, in the meantime, the fight would go on.
“We are still open to the Egyptian initiative and there are hot contacts to improve it ... We are going to pursue the battle until the blockade is ended. The resistance carries our demands,” he said in a text message to reporters.
Hamas has also vowed to keep fighting until Israel and Egypt lift their blockades on the Gaza Strip.
Kerry has been on a diplomatic tour of the Middle East and Egypt this week in an attempt to broker a seven-day ceasefire between Israel and Hamas-led militants in Gaza.
Speaking at a press conference in Cairo on Friday, Kerry said that the talks this week had stalled over disagreements on the terminology of the proposed ceasefire deal. But Kerry said he was confident that a framework exists for a future deal that will ultimately succeed.
The Muslim Eid al-Fitr holiday early next week, which marks the end of Ramadan, has been set as a target for reaching an agreement, Kerry said.
“We are working toward a brief seven days of peace. Seven days of a humanitarian ceasefire in honor of Eid in order to be able to bring people together to try to work to create a more durable, sustainable ceasefire for the long [term],” he told reporters.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri, standing with Kerry at the news conference, backed the call for a pause in fighting for Eid.
France 24 Correspondent: "The people in Gaza are desperate for any kind of reprieve."
An Israeli source, who declined to be named, said that Netanyahu’s security cabinet had initially turned down the proposal for a longer-term ceasefire because it would not allow Israel to carry on targeting the Hamas tunnel network that criss-crosses the Gaza border.
“Kerry’s proposal leans [too much] towards Hamas’s demands,” said the source.
Truce takes effect
Israel's unilateral decision to extend the ceasefire by 24 hours signalled a pause in its assault on Gaza, which since July 8 has killed more than 1,000 Palestinians.
Over the same period, 43 Israeli soldiers deployed into Gaza have been killed, the latest killed overnight on Sunday. Three civilians have also died in Israel.
Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf Al-Qidra said rescue teams had taken advantage of the truce in Gaza to search wrecked neighbourhoods and had recovered some 147 bodies.
On the ground, Palestinian ambulances sped into Gaza neighbourhoods that have been too dangerous to enter for days.
Residents of Beit Hanoun wandered through destroyed streets lined with damaged houses or mounds of rubble, where once whole buildings had stood.
Israeli tanks stood by as people searched through the debris for their belongings, packing whatever they could – blankets, furniture and clothes – into taxis, or on trucks, rickshaws and donkey carts before fleeing again.
Naser Tattar, director of Gaza’s main Shifa hospital, said most of the bodies recovered on Saturday came from Beit Hanoun, Khan Younis and Shejaia - a district east of Gaza City that has witnessed huge clashes between Israeli troops and militants.
Israel's security cabinet was to meet Sunday morning to decide the next steps in the military operation.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AFP)
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Date created : 2014-07-25