Fate of Gaza truce in balance as midnight deadline looms

Fate of Gaza truce in balance as midnight deadline looms

Fate of Gaza truce in balance as midnight deadline looms

Negotiators in Cairo were pushing Israel and the Palestinians to put a decisive end to weeks of bloodshed in Gaza today as the clock ticked down on another temporary truce.

As the death toll in the war-torn Gaza Strip pushed over 2,000, Egyptian negotiators were pressing both sides to reach agreement before a midnight deadline which will mark the end of a five-day truce.

The warring parties have less than three hours left to either reach an agreement, accept a further extension or risk a resumption of the fighting which has wreaked destruction across the densely populated Mediterranean coastal enclave.

The aim is to broker a long-term arrangement to halt more than a month of bloody fighting which erupted on July 8, although both sides have largely lowered their guns since August 4 thanks to a series of temporary truces.

As millions in and around Gaza enjoyed an eighth day of calm brought on by two back-to-back truces, tensions were once again on the rise over fears the fighting could start again.

But a senior member of the Palestinian delegation insisted there had been "progress", with both sides demonstrating "a great degree" of flexibility.

"The Egyptians have submitted a draft that was met with a great degree of flexibility by both sides, the Israelis and Palestinians. There has been progress," he told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity, saying the draft adopted the Palestinian demands, including that of an "airport and (sea) port".

"Both delegations are now consulting with their leaderships," he said.

As the midnight deadline neared, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that Israel would hit back hard if Palestinian rocket attacks from Gaza resume.

"We are ready for all scenarios... the army is preparing for a very strong response if the firing (of rockets) resumes," he said.

"In the turbulent Middle East, you need a mixture of force and patience and the IDF (army) has a lot of both."
Ahead of the deadline, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas was travelling to Doha for talks with exiled Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal and the Qatari emir.

Qatar is a key backer of Hamas, the de facto ruler of Gaza.

As diplomatic efforts intensified, Gaza's health ministry said the death toll from the fighting rose above 2,000 as more people died of their wounds.

The figures showed 2,016 people had been killed and 10,196 wounded.

Among the dead were 541 children, 250 women and 95 elderly men.

Separately, the Israeli army confirmed that five of its 64 dead soldiers were killed by "friendly fire".

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