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Israeli negotiators arrive in Cairo as Gaza truce holds

Mahmud Hams / AFP

Israeli negotiators arrived in Cairo on Monday to meet with Egyptian mediators who are holding talks on ending a month-old Gaza war between Israel and Palestinian militants, sources at the airport and the foreign ministry said.

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Israel and Hamas agreed on Sunday to a new 72-hour ceasefire to give the talks a chance to proceed after a ceasefire expired on Friday without a deal being reached.

FRANCE 24’s correspondent in Jerusalem, Gallagher Fenwick, said that negotiations between Israel and Hamas would be difficult as the two sides’ positions were “diametrically opposed”.

“Remember that Israel’s ultimate goal is the complete demilitarisation of Gaza, that means no more weapons at all in the Palestinian enclave. That is, from pretty much everyone’s point of view, completely inconceivable considering the current situation,” said Fenwick.

He  also noted that the opening of a seaport in Gaza – one of Hamas’s key demands – was “absolutely unacceptable to Israel at the moment”.

The truce, which began just after midnight (2101 GMT on Sunday), was the fruit of days of Egyptian-brokered mediation to stem more than four weeks of violence that has killed 1,939 Palestinians and 67 on the Israeli side since July 8.

Ceasefire holding

Ten hours into the truce, the skies over Gaza remained calm, with no reports of violations on any side and signs of life emerging on the streets of the wartorn coastal enclave, which is home to 1.8 million Palestinians.

As the sun rose on Gaza City, shops and businesses began opening their doors and a handful of people could be seen doing their early shopping.

Outside a UN-run school, a clutch of cars and donkey carts waited to take some of the refugees back to homes they had fled during the fighting.

"We want to go back to see what happened to our house," said Hikmat Atta, 58, who had piled his family into a small cart and was heading back to his home in the northern town of Beit Lahiya, which they had left in the first days of the war.

But with the truce still in its early stages, he was not taking any chances.

"We're just going back for the day, at night we'll come back here," he told AFP.

Egypt urged the warring sides to use the three-day lull to reach "a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire," after efforts to extend a similar truce last week collapsed into a firestorm of violence.

Lifting the blockade

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said it would give the two sides "another chance to agree on a durable ceasefire" while stressing the importance of addressing "the underlying grievances on both sides".

A senior UN aid official warned Israel that a new conflict in Gaza was likely unless the Jewish state lifts a crippling blockade.

James Rawley, the top UN humanitarian official for the Palestinian territories, told AFP in an interview that the international community had failed.

"The blockade must be lifted not only to get material into Gaza in order to rebuild it but to allow Gaza to do what it was doing very well just 10 years ago, to trade with the outside world," Rawley told AFP.

"Gaza has a tremendous potential. People are very entrepreneurial, they're well educated, they have markets abroad, in Israel and the West Bank. The blockade has to be lifted in order that Gaza can thrive."

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

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