NEGOTIATORS IN CAIRO addressed the thorny issue of the Israeli Gaza blockade this evening, as the second day of a 72-hour truce neared its end.
As Gaza’s residents ventured out to try to piece together their battered lives, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators held a second round of indirect talks aimed at finding a durable end to the five-week confrontation.
A senior Israeli official told AFP there was still a long way to go to agree an end to the conflict, which erupted on July 8 when Israel launched military operations to halt cross-border rocket fire from Gaza.
“The negotiations are difficult and gruelling,” a Palestinian official said of Monday’s opening talks, which lasted almost 10 hours and which were described as “serious.”
But he said today’s meetings would be “the most important,” saying they would tackle core issues such as Israel’s eight-year blockade of Gaza, which the Palestinians want lifted.
Tuesday’s talks, which opened during the afternoon, were still going on late into the night.
Earlier, an Israeli official played down the chances of success.
“The gaps are still very wide. There has not been progress in the negotiations,” he told AFP.
The teams gather in separate rooms at the headquarters of the Egyptian General Intelligence and never see each other, with mediators shuttling between them with proposals and counterproposals, a source said.
Hamas wants Israel to lift the blockade it imposed on Gaza in 2006 before it will stop rocket attacks. Israel has said it will only facilitate Gaza’s reconstruction if the enclave is fully disarmed.
In Istanbul, a coalition of activists said on Tuesday they will send a flotilla of blockade-busting ships to Gaza by the end of 2014, fours years after a similar attempt ended with a deadly raid by Israeli commandos.
“We plan to send the flotilla during 2014,” the Freedom Flotilla Coalition, comprising activists from at least 10 countries, said in a statement.
It did not give a specific date or an estimate on how many vessels or people would participate.
In a sign that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced domestic political battles to sell any deal to his fractious coalition government, he called off a planned meeting of his security cabinet on Tuesday and instead invited key ministers, mainly hawks, for private meetings, Israeli media reported.
Truce clock ticking
Egypt brokered the three-day truce which took effect from 2101 GMT Monday and it has urged the warring sides to make every effort to reach “a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire”.
Efforts to extend a similar 72-hour lull last week shattered after Hamas refused to hold its fire beyond the deadline, accusing Israel of refusing to lift the blockade.
Both sides said they were ready to resume hostilities if the talks failed again.
The Israeli military confirmed one of its naval patrol boats had opened fire when a small motor boat from Gaza sailed beyond the three nautical mile offshore limit imposed by Israel.
“We fired a warning shot into the air only and they sailed away,” a spokeswoman told AFP.