Gaza tense as truce deadline looms

 08 Aug 2014 - 1:53

A Palestinian child sits on a mattress on the rubble of a house destroyed in an Israeli air strike in Abasan, east of the southern Gaza Strip town of Khan Yunis and close to the border with Israel, yesterday.

GAZA CITY: Fears rose yesterday that the Gaza conflict could resume as a temporary ceasefire entered a final nine-hour 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 a resumption of the fighting when the deadline expires at 0500 GMT today.
“The Israeli delegation is proposing extending the ceasefire while refusing many the Palestinian demands,” he said.
 “If Israel continues its procrastination, we will not extend the ceasefire,” the official added.
A spokesman for Hamas’s armed wing, the Ezzedine Al Qassam Brigades, warned 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 talks,” a spokesman using the nom-de-guerre Abu Obeida said in a televised address.
In Gaza, residents resigned themselves that the truce could be in jeopardy. Many are 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 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 on the Israeli side, mostly soldiers. 
UN figures indicate that 73 percent of the Palestinian victims — or 1,354 — were civilians, including at least 429 children.
Hamas and Palestine Liberation Organisation officials have laid 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 from Israeli jails.
In Gaza, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum said there was no official stance on either renewing the truce or resuming the fighting.