Palestinians agree to five-day truce as further talks planned
Most points in Egypt’s proposal had been agreed, says head of Palestinian delegation
Israeli soldiers during a protest by Palestinians against the Israeli offensive in Gaza at a checkpoint near Ramallah yesterday. Photograph: Mohamad Torokman/Reuters
The head of the Palestinian delegation to the Cairo peace talks last night announced an extension of the Gaza ceasefire to five days, just a quarter of an hour before its 72-hour ceasefire was due to expire.
Azzam Ahmed said the extension would allow members of the multiparty delegation to return to Ramallah and Gaza for consultations. They would then return to Cairo for further talks on a permanent ceasefire and a political settlement for Gaza. “We have agreed to give more time for the negotiations,” he said. “Most of the points” included in an Egyptian proposal had “been agreed”.
Mr Azzam admitted that sticking points remained, particularly on the issue of the Palestinian demand for the opening of a port and the reconstruction of the airport in southern Gaza.
Tensions had ratcheted up throughout the day with the Israeli cabinet calling for an indefinite ceasefire. Egyptian mediators shuttled between the delegations in a last-ditch attempt to secure a political deal or at least an agreement to extend the truce.
Ismail Haniyeh, head of Hamas’s political bureau said: “No permanent ceasefire agreement can be reached without the removal of the blockade of Gaza ... the heavy losses of the Palestinian people do not permit us to ... compromise on their demands.”
Two hours before the truce expired three rockets landed in southern Israel but Hamas denied responsibility.
Egypt yesterday had presented its own proposals in an attempt to bridge the differences between the sides.
Under the plan, crossings between Israel and Gaza would open to human and goods traffic, Gaza would be permitted to import construction materials to rebuild homes and infrastructure damaged or destroyed during the month-long conflict, and Israel would authorise the exchange of goods between Gaza and the West Bank.
Israel’s 3km buffer zone on the border would shrink to 100 metres, policing would be assumed by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority, and Gaza’s fishing grounds would be expanded from three to 12 nautical miles from the coast. Israel would not object to the transfer by the Palestinian Authority of salaries owed to Hamas-appointed civil servants in Gaza.
The issues of the opening of a sea port and airport for Gaza would be deferred.
The Palestinian delegation flatly refused to discuss Israel’s demand for the disarmament of the military wings of Hamas and Islamic Jihad and Gaza’s demilitarisation which, said deputy prime minister Ziad Abu Amr “is a final status issue” to be resolved in an overall settlement.
In Gaza, three members of a bomb disposal squad, a policeman, Palestinian journalist Ali Abu Afash, and Italian correspondent Simone Camilli, were killed in the explosion of an Israeli shell in Beit Lahya in the northern sector of the strip. The deaths bring to 15 the number of journalists killed during the conflict.