JERUSALEM (AFP) ― A new 24-hour cease-fire came into effect in the Gaza Strip Tuesday after Israeli and Palestinian negotiators agreed to extend a five-day truce, minutes before a midnight deadline, to allow for further talks on a long-term deal.
News of the last-minute extension came from Cairo late Monday where Egyptian mediators have been pushing both sides to put a decisive end to weeks of bloodshed in Gaza, which has killed more than 2,000 Palestinians and 67 on the Israeli side.
The announcement was confirmed by both sides just minutes before the five-day cease-fire was to expire at midnight local time. “Both sides have agreed to a 24-hour cease-fire,” a senior Palestinian official told AFP in Cairo.
Israel also confirmed accepting the extension to allow talks on a longer-term deal to continue for another 24 hours.
|A Palestinian family flees its destroyed neighborhood to take shelter in a U.N. school for the night in the Gaza Strip city of Beit Hanun on Monday. (AFP-Yonhap)|
“In response to an Egyptian request, Israel agreed to extend the truce for 24 hours in order to continue the negotiations” for a more durable cease-fire, a government official said.
The talks in Cairo center on an Egyptian proposal that meets some of the Palestinian demands, such as easing Israel’s eight-year blockade on Gaza, but defer debate on other thorny issues until later.
Hamas, which is part of the Palestinian delegation, also said it had agreed to hold fire for another 24 hours following an Egyptian request.
“The negotiations have faced difficulties because of the occupation’s obstinacy, and the 24 hour (extension) came as a result of a request by the mediators to have another chance,” Hamas politburo member Izzat al-Rishq wrote on Twitter.
Azzam Al-Ahmad, head of the Palestinian negotiating delegation, told reporters in Cairo: “We must take advantage of every minute in the next 24 hours until we reach an agreement or the cycle of violence will continue.”
The warring parties had been faced with three choices ― reach a long-term agreement, accept a further extension or risk a resumption of the fighting, which has wreaked destruction across the densely populated Mediterranean coastal enclave.
The aim is to broker a long-term arrangement to halt more than a month of bloody fighting, although both sides have largely silenced their guns since Aug. 4 thanks to a series of temporary truces.