A Palestinian rides past residential buildings in Beit
Lahiya town, which witnesses said was heavily hit by
Israeli shelling and air strikes during the Israeli
offensive. Photo by Reuters
Mediators are working against the clock to extend a truce
between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip, as
the three-day ceasefire enters its final hours.
Israel said it was ready to agree to an extension as Egyptian
go-betweens pursued talks with Israeli and Palestinian
delegates in Cairo on ending a war that has devastated the
Palestinians want an Israeli-Egyptian blockade on Gaza lifted
and prisoners held by Israel to be freed. Hamas's armed wing
said it was ready to resume fighting unless Palestinian
demands were met, and Israel said it would respond forcefully
"Indirect talks are ongoing and we still have today to secure
this," an Egyptian official said when asked whether the truce
was likely to go beyond Friday's 8am (local time) deadline.
"Egypt's aims are to stabilise and extend the truce with the
agreement of both sides and to begin negotiations towards a
permanent agreement to cease fire and ease border
The Palestinian delegation met Egyptian intelligence
officials late on Thursday. Israeli officials said Israel's
delegates would return to Cairo in the evening having briefly
returned home to confer with Prime Minister Benjamin
After a month of bitter battles, the two sides are not
talking face to face.
Gaza officials say the war has killed 1875 Palestinians, most
of them civilians. Hamas said on Thursday it had executed an
unspecified number of Palestinians as Israeli spies.
Israel says 64 of its soldiers and three civilians have died
in the fighting that began on July 8, after a surge in
Palestinian rocket salvoes into Israel.
An Israeli official said late on Wednesday that Israel "has
expressed its readiness to extend the truce under its current
terms" beyond Friday morning's expiry of the three-day deal,
which took effect on Tuesday and has so far held.
A senior Israeli minister, Yaakov Peri, said on Army Radio
that an extension would be "right for both sides" and added:
"Let's hope that reason prevails."
In Gaza, Palestinian factions held a rally, with several
thousand supporters urging Hamas to "bomb Tel Aviv".
Mushir Al-Masri, a Hamas official, told the crowd that Israel
should know that "our fighters are in the battlefield with
their fingers on triggers".
Hamas's armed wing called on Palestinian negotiators to quit
the talks in Cairo unless progress were made towards meeting
the group's demands, which include opening Gaza's seaport.
"We urge the Palestinian delegation negotiating not to renew
the truce except after the acceptance in principle,
particularly to establish the seaport, and if there is no
acceptance then we ask the delegation to withdraw from
talks," the armed wing's spokesman, Abu Ubaida, said in a
"We are ready to enter the battle anew and we will give the
occupation a difficult decision to make: either we will bring
them into a long war of attrition or we will draw them into a
broad territorial war," he added, threatening attacks he said
would paralyse the Israeli economy and shut down Ben Gurion
International Airport near Tel Aviv.
A Hamas refusal to extend the ceasefire could further
alienate Egypt, whose government has been hostile to the
group and which ultimately controls Gaza's main gateway to
the world, the Rafah border crossing.
Israel's military chief, Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz, said
that if Hamas broke the truce, Israel would use "whatever
force necessary to ensure the security of Israeli citizens".
A senior Israeli military officer, briefing foreign
reporters, said Hamas was capable of resuming attacks with
its remaining rockets but it could take "months" for
guerrillas to replenish their arsenal from domestic
production facilities battered by Israel's assault.
"They started with around 9000 rockets (in their total
arsenal) and now they have a bit less than 3000," the officer
said. "The majority are short-range, less than 40km."
Israel's central bank governor, Karnit Flug, put the war
damage to the Israeli economy at $US1.44 billion and Finance
Minister Yair Lapid said the 2014 budget could absorb the
cost of the conflict without raising taxes. But the Fitch
ratings agency said budget planning next year might reflect
the need to reverse recent falls in defence spending.
Israel withdrew ground forces from Gaza on Tuesday, shortly
before the truce began. There were signs it expected the
quiet to last, as emergency restrictions on civilians living
near Gaza in Israel's south were lifted to permit more public
activities. Residents were urged to resume their routines.
The Israelis described the ceasefire as a tradeoff of "calm
for calm". They have shown little interest in easing their
naval blockade of Gaza and controls on overland traffic and
airspace, worrying Hamas could restock on weapons from
In Gaza, where half a million people have been displaced by a
month of bloodshed, some residents left U.N. shelters to
return to neighbourhoods devastated by Israeli shelling.
U.S. President Barack Obama, backing efforts to broker a
durable ceasefire, called for a longer-term solution that
provides Israel with security while offering Gaza residents
hope they will not be permanently cut off from the world.
While condemning Hamas for launching rockets against Israel
from population centres, Obama urged an eventual formula to
ease the hardships of ordinary Palestinians.
Efforts to achieve a lasting truce could prove difficult,
with the sides far apart on their central demands, and each
rejecting the other's legitimacy. Islamist Hamas calls for
the Jewish state's destruction, while Israel denounces Hamas
as a terrorist group and refuses any direct contact.