Truce Takes Hold After Shaky Start, Talks Continue in Cairo

GAZA/YERUSHALAYIM (Reuters/Hamodia) -

(Reuters/Hamodia) – A new, five-day truce between Israel and Hamas appeared to be holding on Thursday despite a shaky start, after both sides agreed to give Egyptian-brokered peace negotiations in Cairo more time to try to end the Gaza war.

The Israeli military said Gaza terrorists had breached the truce by firing eight rockets at Israel shortly after midnight Wednesday. In response, Israeli fighter planes targeted “rocket launchers and terror sites” across the enclave. No casualties were reported and hostilities died down by dawn.

The second extension of the ceasefire, this time for five days rather than three, has raised hopes that a longer-term resolution to the conflict can be found, although the way ahead remains fraught with difficulty.

A senior Hamas official who returned to Gaza from the negotiations in Cairo said they had been tough but expressed some optimism.

“There is still a real chance to clinch an agreement,” Khalil al-Hayya told reporters. “The Egyptian mediators are entering a good effort and we wish them success in this negotiation battle.”

Another Hamas official was even more upbeat, claiming on Thursday night that the ceasefire extension was agreed upon at the last minute because of a breakthrough in the talks.

“The formula proposed by Egypt over the last two days could lead directly to what we see as a breakthrough and an answer to our demands,” he said.

There was no comment from Israel on Thursday, except that the security cabinet was scheduled to meet to discuss the Egyptians proposals.

Hamas demands for lifting of the blockade and the building of a seaport, which Israel has rejected, versus Israeli insistence on the demilitarization of Gaza, which Hamas has refused, remained outstanding issues, and no indication has been given as to how they might be resolved.

Progress centered on tentative agreements to ease restrictions on the movement of people and goods across the border to Egypt.

Egypt’s plan reportedly calls for expansion of the area where Gaza’s fishermen operate to six miles from the shore, from three miles at present.

“It will increase gradually to no less than 12 miles in coordination between the Palestinian Authority and Israel,” an official said, adding that any deal will likely include an expanded role in Gaza for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Israel and Hamas have not met face-to-face in Cairo: Israel regards Hamas, which advocates its destruction, as a terrorist group.