Israeli officials and Hamas leaders exchanged warnings with a three-day cease-fire set to expire early tomorrow and negotiations in Cairo resuming to reach a long-term deal to end the Gaza conflict and rebuild the area.
“This battle is not over yet, and we assert that the demands of the Palestinian people are legitimate demands,” Hamas official Mushir al-Masri told a rally in the Gaza Strip. “Our fingers are on the trigger, and our rockets are trained at Tel Aviv,” he said.
“Fifty-one hours after the cease-fire, Hamas is threatening to continue firing rockets if we don’t bow to their demands,” Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid told reporters in Tel Aviv. “They shouldn’t threaten us, or test us. The Israeli military is ready to respond with all its strength.” U.S. President Barack Obama has called on Israelis and Palestinians to extend the 72-hour truce expiring 8 a.m. local time on Friday and urged both sides to reach a deal.
Egyptian mediators were meeting today with a delegation that includes members of the Hamas movement that runs Gaza and officials representing Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the Voice of Palestine radio station reported. Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations, told Bloomberg Television that Israeli officials are also in Cairo and “negotiating through the Egyptians,” though Israel’s government hasn’t confirmed their presence.
Israel withdrew troops from Gaza on Aug. 5 after four weeks of fighting that the military said sought to stop salvos of rockets fired by militants at Israel and destroy tunnels they used to stage attacks. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in Jerusalem yesterday that the army is stationed outside Gaza, ready to deal with any cease-fire violation.
Obama, at a news conference in Washington, said that after the cease-fire is extended the U.S goal would be to help Gaza begin rebuilding. For a sustained peace, “the people of Gaza need to feel some sense of hope and the people of Israel feel confident that they aren’t going to have a repeat of the kind of rocket launches that we’ve seen,” Obama said.
Earlier attempts at a peace deal have struggled to resolve long-standing issues between the two sides. Hamas wants to lift an Israeli and Egyptian blockade that heavily controls movement of goods and people into the territory, while Israel is seeking to eliminate the threat of future attacks by demilitarizing the group.
Germany, France and the U.K. have presented Israel with an initiative for the reconstruction of Gaza that includes international supervision to prevent the rearming of Hamas and other militant Palestinian groups, Israel’s Haaretz daily reported today. Netanyahu has said any rebuilding effort in Gaza must be linked to the disarming of its militant organizations.
Ezzat al-Rashq, a member of Hamas’s political bureau, told the Egyptian Al Shorouk newspaper that “disarming Gaza” is a “a red line” that his organization won’t agree to. Hamas is classified as a terrorist organization by Israel, the U.S. and European Union.
While Hamas is insisting its conditions for a permanent deal be accepted as a single package, it has agreed to delay talks on some issues — including the reopening of Gaza’s port and airport, and a safe-passage for travel between Gaza and the West Bank — an unidentified Palestinian official in Cairo told the pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat.
The Gaza conflict has been the deadliest in the territory since Israeli settlers and soldiers left in 2005. At least 1,868 Palestinians lost their lives, the majority of them civilians, according to Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qedra. Israel says 750 to 1,000 militants were killed and that 67 people died on the Israeli side, 64 of them soldiers.
About a quarter of Gaza’s 1.8 million people were displaced by the fighting, in some cases taking refuge in UN schools that were subsequently bombed by the Israeli military. They’ve begun returning to find homes damaged or destroyed in the fighting.
Foreign ministers from Arab countries including Egypt, Jordan and Kuwait will visit Gaza in the coming days to assess what’s needed to begin reconstruction of the coastal strip, Arab League Secretary-General Nabil el-Araby said, according to the United Arab Emirates news agency WAM.
The Israeli military has urged citizens who left their homes near the border to return. “Just like it was quiet here before, it will be quiet again afterward,” army chief Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz said at a press conference near the frontier yesterday
Gantz also said that Israel doesn’t rule out future strikes on Hamas leaders. “Anywhere that we are able to attack them, we will strike at the time of our choosing,” he said.
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