FEAR ARE RISING that the Gaza conflict could resume as a temporary ceasefire entered a final stretch and Palestinians accused Israel of stalling at truce talks in Cairo.
Israel has said it is ready to extend the 72-hour lull “indefinitely” but Hamas has so far hedged its bets, with an official on the negotiating team saying a decision would be taken later.
But as nightfall loomed, a senior Palestinian official accused Israel of procrastinating, warning it could lead to as resumption of the fighting when the deadline expires at 5am (GMT) on Friday.
“The Israeli delegation is proposing extending the ceasefire while refusing a number of the Palestinian demands,” he said, without elaborating.
If Israel continues its procrastination, we will not extend the ceasefire.
A spokesman for Hamas’s armed wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, warned just hours before the truce expired that fighting would resume if their demands were not met, first and foremost to open a sea port to the blockaded Palestinian enclave.
“If there is an agreement, it will be possible to extend the truce, but if there is not, we will ask the delegation to withdraw from the talks,” a spokesman using the nom-de-guerre Abu Obeida said in a televised address.
Reaction on the groun in Gaza
In Gaza, local residents resigned themselves that the truce could be in jeopardy. Many are still sheltering in schools, reluctant to return to their damaged homes without a lasting truce.
“Everything is possible, everything is ready, if there are no demands (met at the talks), there will be more destruction,” said Najib Habib, 35, a labourer from Shejaiya, one of the worst-hit areas.
Four weeks of bloodshed between Israel and Hamas killed 1,886 Palestinians, and 67 people on the Israeli side, almost all soldiers.
UN figures indicate that 73% of the Palestinian victims — or 1,354 people — were civilians. Of that number, at least 429 were children.
Hamas and Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) officials have laid out a number of demands, starting with the lifting of Israel’s eight-year blockade on Gaza.
They also want the crossings with Egypt and Israel reopened and the release of around 125 key prisoners held in Israeli jails.
Israel’s negotiating team, which had earlier flown back for consultations with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon, was returning to Cairo, an Israeli official told AFP, without saying what was discussed.
“We haven’t been formally notified of Israel’s response regarding the Palestinian demands but we have learned informally… that it wants to procrastinate and stall in the negotiations to avoid (giving us) the achievements of the ceasefire,” another Palestinian official said in Cairo.
In Gaza, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum said there was no official stance on either renewing the truce or resuming the fighting, but an anonymous official familiar with the talks was pessimistic.
“The factions currently think they will resume fighting tomorrow morning,” he said.
Uncertainty all round
“Right now there is uncertainty, on the one hand the public in Gaza and in the region and the international community is telling (Hamas) not to … leave negotiations,” a senior Israeli military official said.
On the other, the military wing of Hamas is warning they could restart the rocket launches.
Despite the withdrawal of all its troops from Gaza by the time the three-day truce began early on Tuesday, Israel has retained forces along the border who are ready to respond to any resumption of fighting.
Speaking in Jerusalem after a visit to Gaza, International Committee of the Red Cross president Peter Maurer said he was “deeply distressed and shocked” at the impact of violence, saying the scale of the civilian losses must not happen again.
And he suggested there may have been some violations of international humanitarian law which had not been “accurately and ambitiously implemented.”
- © AFP, 2014