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Gaza Negotiators Not Budging Ahead of Midnight Deadline

Destroyed Homes in Gaza
Men sit in a destroyed apartment building where they lived with their families in the neighborhood of Al-Shaas in the north of the Gaza Strip, on August 16, 2014. Photographer: Roberto Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images

Israeli and Palestinian officials showed little movement from entrenched positions with the deadline for a temporary Gaza Strip truce set to expire at midnight.

Egyptian officials have been pushing for a breakthrough on the final day of talks in Cairo, trying to craft a lasting accord to resolve disputes that have fanned repeated military showdowns. With hours to go, the outlook appeared gloomy.

“The Israeli Defense Forces are gearing up for a very forceful response if the firing resumes,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a text message. Hamas official Mussa Abu Marzuk said on his Facebook page that “the Palestinian delegation in Egypt will never surrender any of the legitimate rights of our people.”

The break in fighting offered a pause from a monthlong conflict that killed more than 2,000 Palestinians, including hundreds of civilians, and 67 people on the Israeli side, all but three of them soldiers. With the toll significantly higher than in two other showdowns since 2008, and the Palestinian territory badly damaged by Israeli strikes, it wasn’t clear whether failure to reach an agreement would automatically lead to a renewal of hostilities.

Robert Serry, United Nations special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, said the truce talks must make progress on the key demands made by either side: bringing an end to the blockade of Gaza imposed by Israel and Egypt, while addressing Israel’s security needs.

Final Accord

In a speech to the UN Security Council, Serry also urged Palestinians to “rally behind” a joint Hamas-Fatah government established in June to deliver the “positive, transformative change that Gaza so badly needs,” according to an e-mailed transcript of his comments.

In Tel Aviv, the benchmark TA-25 Index declined 0.6 percent to 1379.87, the lowest since July 10. The yield on Israel’s benchmark government bond rose 3 basis points, or 0.03 percentage point, to 2.66 percent.

Hamas has demanded that Israel allow the opening of a seaport and airfield in Gaza. Israeli officials said those issues can only be dealt with in a final peace agreement with the Palestinians. Israel wants Gaza demilitarized.

Egypt has proposed an 11-point plan that includes halting hostilities, easing Israel’s eight-year blockade on Gaza and giving the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority a role in rebuilding the territory, according to a report in Egypt’s Al-Shorouk newspaper.

Viable Solution

“We don’t need an agreement with Hamas in order to open, or not open, the crossings,” Israeli Economy Minister Naftali Bennett said today on Army Radio. “I think we have to decide for ourselves what’s best for ourselves, and then do it unilaterally,” said Bennett, a member of an inner security cabinet that must ratify any agreement.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told reporters in Ramallah Aug. 16 that the Egyptian initiative is the only viable solution to the Gaza conflict. Abbas’s Fatah movement, which controls parts of the West Bank, is represented on the Palestinian negotiating team. He traveled today to Qatar, where several Hamas leaders are located.

Israel withdrew ground troops from Gaza on Aug. 5 following a four-week offensive that it said was designed to end years of rocket fire and destroy tunnels militants built to infiltrate Israel. It accuses Hamas of deliberately putting civilians in harm’s way and along with the U.S. and European Union, considers Hamas a terrorist organization.

Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid today renewed his call for an international conference to set a up a framework for the rehabilitation of Gaza and spur a new diplomatic initiative toward a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

“Without a diplomatic initiative, without widespread international support, any attempt to reach an agreement will be the beginning of the countdown towards the next round of violence,” Lapid said in an e-mailed statement.

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