December 21, 2014
Mediators race against the clock to extend Gaza truce
Mediators worked against the clock today to extend a Gaza truce between Israel and the Palestinians as the three-day ceasefire went into its final 24 hours.
In Gaza, Palestinian factions held a rally, with several thousand supporters urging Hamas to "bomb Tel Aviv".
Mushir Al-Masri, a Hamas official, told the crowd that Israel should know that "our fighters are in the battlefield with their fingers on triggers".
Hamas's armed wing called on Palestinian negotiators to quit the talks in Cairo unless progress were made towards meeting the group's demands, which include opening Gaza's seaport.
"We urge the Palestinian delegation negotiating not to renew the truce except after the acceptance in principle, particularly to establish the seaport, and if there is no acceptance then we ask the delegation to withdraw from talks," the armed wing's spokesman, Abu Ubaida, said in a televised statement.
"We are ready to enter the battle anew and we will give the occupation a difficult decision to make: either we will bring them into a long war of attrition or we will draw them into a broad territorial war," he added, threatening attacks he said would paralyse the Israeli economy and shut down Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv.
Israel said it was ready to agree to an extension as Egyptian go-betweens pursued talks with Israeli and Palestinian delegates in Cairo on ending a war that has devastated the Hamas-controlled enclave.
Palestinians want an Israeli-Egyptian blockade on Gaza lifted and prisoners held by Israel to be freed. Hamas's armed wing said it was ready to resume fighting unless Palestinian demands were met, and Israel said it would respond forcefully if attacked.
"Indirect talks are ongoing and we still have today to secure this," an Egyptian official said when asked whether the truce was likely to go beyond Friday's 8 a.m. (0500 GMT) deadline.
"Egypt's aims are to stabilise and extend the truce with the agreement of both sides and to begin negotiations towards a permanent agreement to cease fire and ease border restrictions."
The Palestinian delegation met Egyptian intelligence officials late on Thursday. Israeli officials said Israel's delegates would return to Cairo in the evening having briefly returned home to confer with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
After a month of bitter battles, the two sides are not talking face to face.
Gaza officials say the war has killed 1,875 Palestinians, most of them civilians. Hamas said on Thursday it had executed an unspecified number of Palestinians as Israeli spies.
Israel says 64 of its soldiers and three civilians have died in the fighting that began on July 8, after a surge in Palestinian rocket salvoes into Israel.
An Israeli official said late on Wednesday that Israel "has expressed its readiness to extend the truce under its current terms" beyond tomorrow morning's expiry of the three-day deal, which took effect on Tuesday and has so far held.
A senior Israeli minister, Yaakov Peri, said on Army Radio that an extension would be "right for both sides" and added: "Let's hope that reason prevails."