Israel, Hamas Trade Threats as End of Three-Day Truce Looms

As the clock ticked down on a three-day truce between Israel and Hamas, negotiators met in Cairo yesterday in a bid to find a long-term deal to end the Gaza conflict and rebuild the area before the cease-fire expires.

Both sides exchanged threats after talks failed to resolve long-standing issues. A spokesman for Hamas’ armed wing told al-Jazeera there would be no truce extension unless Israel lifts an eight-year blockade of its land crossings and port. Hamas official Mushir al-Masri told a rally in the Gaza Strip that the “battle is not over yet” and that “our fingers are on the trigger, and our rockets are trained at Tel Aviv.”

Yuval Steinitz, the intelligence and strategic affairs minister said in a BBC interview that in the event of further attacks Israel will have “no option except to take temporary control over Gaza in order to demilitarize the Gaza Strip from rockets and missiles.”

The belligerent talk raised the prospect of hostilities resuming in a conflict that has claimed the lives of 1,868 Palestinians, the majority of them civilians, and 67 people on the Israeli side.

U.S. President Barack Obama has called on Israelis and Palestinians to extend the 72-hour truce expiring 8 a.m. local time today and urged both sides to reach a deal.

Cairo Talks

Egyptian mediators met yesterday with a delegation that includes members of the Hamas movement that runs Gaza and officials representing Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the Voice of Palestine radio station reported. Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations, told Bloomberg Television that Israeli officials are also in Cairo and “negotiating through the Egyptians,” though Israel’s government hasn’t confirmed their presence.

Israel withdrew troops from Gaza on Aug. 5 after attempting to stop salvos of rockets fired by militants at Israel and destroy tunnels they used to stage attacks. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in Jerusalem Aug. 6 that the army remains outside Gaza, ready to deal with any cease-fire violation.

Obama, at a news conference in Washington, said that after the cease-fire is extended the U.S goal would be able to help Gaza begin rebuilding. For a sustained peace, “the people of Gaza need to feel some sense of hope and the people of Israel feel confident that they aren’t going to have a repeat of the kind of rocket launches that we’ve seen,” Obama said.

Rebuild Plan

As a condition for peace, Hamas wants to lift an Israeli and Egyptian blockade that heavily controls movement of goods and people into the territory, while Israel is seeking to eliminate the threat of future attacks by demilitarizing the group.

Germany, France and the U.K. have presented Israel with an initiative for the reconstruction of Gaza that includes international supervision to prevent the rearming of Hamas and other militant Palestinian groups, Israel’s Haaretz daily reported yesterday. Netanyahu has said any rebuilding effort in Gaza must be linked to the disarming of its militant organizations.

Ezzat al-Rashq, a member of Hamas’s political bureau, told the Egyptian Al Shorouk newspaper that “disarming Gaza” is a “a red line” that his organization won’t agree to. Hamas is classified as a terrorist organization by Israel, the U.S. and European Union.

Gaza Damage

While Hamas is insisting its conditions for a permanent deal be accepted as a single package, it has agreed to delay talks on some issues -- including the reopening of Gaza’s port and airport, and a safe-passage for travel between Gaza and the West Bank -- an unidentified Palestinian official in Cairo told the pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat.

The Gaza conflict has been the most disruptive in the territory since Israeli settlers and soldiers left in 2005. About a quarter of Gaza’s 1.8 million people were displaced by the fighting, in some cases taking refuge in UN schools that were subsequently bombed by the Israeli military. They’ve begun returning to find homes damaged or destroyed in the fighting.

Foreign ministers from Arab countries including Egypt, Jordan and Kuwait will visit Gaza in the coming days to assess what’s needed to begin reconstruction of the coastal strip, Arab League Secretary-General Nabil el-Araby said, according to the United Arab Emirates news agency WAM.

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