GAZA/CAIRO: Israel and the Palestinians agreed yesterday to extend a Gaza truce by another 24 hours, minutes before an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire was set to expire, officials on both sides said.
Agreement was reached as gaps on key issues continued to dog efforts to achieve a long-term deal between Israel and militant groups in the Gaza Strip, dominated by Hamas Islamists, which would allow reconstruction aid to flow in after five weeks of fighting.
The month-long war ended in effect more than a week ago when Egypt brokered a three-day truce, which it then won agreement to extend by another five days through 2100 GMT yesterday.
A Palestinian official close to the talks in Cairo said the latest extension would give both sides time “to complete the negotiations”.
An Israeli official and a security source said in Jerusalem that “on Egypt’s request the ceasefire shall be extended by 24 hours to allow further negotiations”.
In Gaza a senior Palestinian official said agreement had been reached on all but two points drafted by Egypt for a wider deal, including opening Gaza’s crossing to allow a freer flow of goods, and extending maritime limits in the Mediterranean Sea.
Issues still not agreed upon include Hamas’s demands to open a seaport and an airport, which Israel has said it would only discuss at a later stage, in addition to freeing Palestinian prisoners held by Israel and Hamas handing over remains of two Israeli soldiers killed in the war, a Palestinian official said.
Israel made clear before the earlier truce lapsed that it would continue to hold its fire as long as Palestinians did the same. “If they shoot at us, we will respond,” Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s security cabinet, told Israel Radio.
The Palestinian Health Ministry put the Gaza death toll at 2,016 and said most were civilians in the small, densely populated coastal territory. Sixty-four Israeli soldiers and three civilians in Israel have been killed. The United Nations said 425,000 people in the Gaza Strip have been displaced by the conflict.
Hamas seeks the construction of a Gaza sea port and the reopening of an airport destroyed in previous conflicts, as part of any enduring halt to violence. Livni said such issues should be dealt with at a later stage.
Israel has shown scant interest in making sweeping concessions, and has called for the disarming of militant groups in the enclave of 1.8 million people.