Gaza cease-fire extended, parties to return to Cairo

Hamas and Israel agreed to extend a temporary cease-fire in Gaza for five more days, just minutes before a previous 72-hour cease-fire was set to expire at midnight on Aug. 13.

Hope had been running out for an extension as the clock ticked down. Hamas launched rockets into Israel two hours before the cease-fire deadline, prompting Israeli military response.

The Palestinian and Israeli delegations were expected to return to Cairo next week for another round of talks in the hopes of reaching a more permanent agreement.

“We need more time in order to reach an agreement,” an Egyptian source said. “Each side is being stubborn with some of the disputed points.”

According to a Hamas official speaking on Aug. 13, “We have finished talks today without agreement. More work needs to be done to have a better deal. We are deliberating internally.”

Earlier that day, Hamas political bureau chief Ismail Haniyeh reiterated the group’s demands for a long-term cease-fire, but said in a statement that “no permanent cease-fire agreement can be reached without the removal of the blockade on Gaza.”

Nonetheless, he backed the Palestinian delegation negotiating indirectly with Israel in Cairo. It included representatives from all Palestinian factions, including the moderate Fatah and the more radical and militant Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Egyptian mediators ferried between the Palestinians and their Israeli counterparts in an attempt to overcome the differences between the sides.

The Egyptian proposal under deliberation this week called for easing parts of the Israeli blockade of Gaza to bring some relief to the territory, according to Palestinian officials in the talks. But it left key areas of disagreement, including Hamas’ demand for a full lifting of the blockade and Israeli calls for Hamas to disarm, to later negotiations. It also envisioned the Palestinian Authority supplanting Hamas in Gaza.

 The points covered in the draft document:

• Talks on the building of a seaport and airport for Gaza would be postponed until after the situation between the two sides stabilizes. In addition, talks would be postponed on prisoner releases and the return of the bodies of IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Holdin.

• Border crossings between Israel and the Gaza Strip would be opened for movement of goods and people. Construction materials to rebuild Gaza would be allowed in, and Israel also would authorize the import and export of goods between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

• The border perimeter (the buffer zone on the Gaza border that Palestinians are not allowed to enter) would be reduced gradually, ending with the deployment of Palestinian Authority troops to the area.

• Gaza’s fishing area would be expanded gradually from six miles to 12, in coordination with Israel and the Palestinian Authority. —