Egypt has announced late Monday a 24-hour extension in cease-fire talks between Israel and Hamas to conduct more talks aimed at a long-term truce, Palestinian and Israeli sources said.
The Egyptian government’s announcement came less than an hour before the temporary ceasefire in Gaza was set to expire.
The government said in its statement that a deal has not been reached yet but talks aimed at a long-term ceasefire would continue.
"Palestinians and Israelis agreed on extending ceasefire to 24 hours to continue current negotiations," Egypt's official news agency said, quoting an official statement.
Since last week, Egypt has been hosting indirect talks between Israel and Hamas aimed at ending a devastating monthlong war. But just hours before a temporary five-day truce was to expire at midnight, it remained unclear whether a long-term deal would be reached.
Gaza Health Ministry official Ashraf al-Kidra said Monday the death toll from the fighting had jumped to over 2,000 Palestinians, the majority of them civilians, while U.N. officials, who often take more time to verify figures, put the number at 1,976. Thousands of homes were destroyed, and tens of thousands of people remain huddled in special U.N. shelters. Israel lost 67 people, all but three of them soldiers.
Egypt met both sides late Monday, but gaps appeared to remain wide. Hamas is demanding an end to a seven-year Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza that has devastated the local economy. Israel wants guarantees that Hamas, which fired thousands of rockets into Israel during the fighting, will be disarmed.
The Gaza blockade, imposed after Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007, remained the main stumbling block. It has greatly limited the movement of Palestinians in and out of the territory of 1.8 million people, restricted the flow of goods into Gaza and blocked virtually all exports.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu already said this week he would not allow Hamas to win a diplomatic victory at the negotiating table.
An Egyptian compromise proposal has called for an easing of the blockade to allow more movement of goods and people in and out of Gaza. Although it would not disarm Hamas, it would give Abbas, whose forces were routed by Hamas in the 2007 takeover, a foothold back in Gaza and put him in charge of border crossings and internationally backed reconstruction efforts.
(with the Associated Press)