GAZA/CAIRO: The threat of renewed war in Gaza loomed on Wednesday as the clock ticked toward the end of a three-day ceasefire with no sign of a breakthrough in indirect talks in Cairo between Israel and the Palestinians.
A Palestinian official with knowledge of the negotiations said Egypt had presented a new proposal for a permanent truce agreement that addressed a major Palestinian demand for a lifting of the Israeli and Egyptian blockades of the Gaza Strip.
Israel and Egypt harbor deep security concerns about Hamas, the dominant Islamist group in the small, Mediterranean coastal enclave, complicating any deal on easing border restrictions.
It was unclear from the official’s remarks how those worries, along with Israel’s demand for Gaza’s demilitarization, would be dealt with. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said disarming was not an option.
Israeli negotiators returned to Egypt after overnighting in Israel with the truce in the month-old hostilities - which have killed 1,945 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and 67 on the Israeli side - due to expire at 2100 GMT (5.00 p.m. EDT).
Gaza was still a dangerous place, even with the guns silent.
An Italian journalist, his translator, three Palestinian bomb disposal workers and one other person died on Wednesday when unexploded munitions blew up in the north of the enclave as attempts were being made to defuse the ordnance, officials said. Simone Camilli, 35, a video journalist working for the Associated Press, was the first international journalist killed in the latest Gaza conflict. Palestinians say more than 10 local media workers have also died in the fighting.
President Barack Obama spoke by telephone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the ceasefire efforts, the White House said, giving no immediate details of the call.
As the deadline neared, Israel also moved forces closer to Gaza and called up additional reservist troops, Israeli media reports said. The Israeli military said its “forces are moved around on a routine basis” and would not elaborate.
Azzam Ahmed, an official of the mainstream Fatah party who heads the Palestinian team in Cairo, said the negotiations were at a very sensitive stage and it hoped to reach a ceasefire accord before the current truce expired.
A source with knowledge of the talks said it would become clear in the next few hours whether a deal could be reached. “The issue is complicated and it is as if we have gone back to square one,” with each side sticking fast to its positions, the source told Reuters in Cairo, on condition of anonymity. The source confirmed Israeli and Palestinian reports that Egypt may seek another 72-hour truce, in the event the sides could not agree on a wider deal by deadline. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh told Al-Aqsa Hamas television the group would insist on “lifting the Gaza blockade” and reducing movement restrictions on the territory’s 1.8 million residents, as a prerequisite to achieving a “permanent calm”.
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