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US envoy arrives in Cairo for Gaza truce talks

Aug. 7, 2014 2:26 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 9, 2014 7:32 P.M.)
CAIRO (Ma'an) -- Acting US special envoy for Palestinian-Israeli negotiations Frank Lowenstein landed Thursday in Cairo where he is scheduled to meet with the Egyptian foreign minister and other officials to discuss extending Gaza's ceasefire.

The ceasefire is scheduled to end at 8 a.m. Friday unless a deal is reached to extend it.

Lowenstein said Egypt was working hard to try to prolong the ceasefire so to give negotiators enough time to reach an agreement on a long-term truce ending an 8-year, crippling siege on Gaza and assure that hostilities won't break out again.

A Ma'an reporter said that Israel agreed to more days of ceasefire, while the Palestinians are yet to determine whether they agree or not.

Also Thursday, Egyptian sources told Ma'an that Egypt would agree to permanently open the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza on the condition that the Palestinian Authority's national consensus government runs the terminal along with the Egyptians.

Israel and Hamas appeared at odds on Thursday over prolonging the 72-hour ceasefire, with Israel indicating it will back an unconditional extension but Hamas denying any agreement.

Fighting has ceased since 8 a.m. Tuesday, bringing relief to the Gaza Strip after the deaths of over 1,800 Palestinians and 67 Israelis.

Egyptian mediators have accelerated efforts to extend the truce after it expires at 8 a.m. on Friday, shuttling between Israeli and Palestinian delegations in Cairo.

"Israel has no problem extending the ceasefire unconditionally," an Israeli official told AFP on condition of anonymity late Wednesday. There was no immediate reaction from Hamas.

A spokeswoman for the Israeli army said 27,000 reservists called up for the conflict had been sent home, leaving a force of 55,000 still on active duty, in another sign of growing hopes for long-term quiet.

But Hamas deputy leader Mussa Abu Marzouq, part of the Palestinian delegation holding talks in Cairo, denied overnight there was yet any agreement.

"There is no agreement to extend the ceasefire," he wrote on Twitter.

"Any news about the extension of the truce is unfounded," added Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri.

On Wednesday, US President Barack Obama said that the people of Gaza need greater hope for the future, as he urged the extension of an Israel-Hamas ceasefire.

Obama said the United States was supporting ceasefire talks but added: "Long-term, there has to be a recognition that Gaza cannot sustain itself permanently closed off from the world."

"I have no sympathy for Hamas. I have great sympathy for ordinary people who are struggling within Gaza," Obama added.

Nearly half a million Palestinians were displaced by Israeli bombardment, and many are still sheltering in schools after their homes were flattened in the offensive.

In Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launched a vigorous defense of the conflict in the face of international criticism over heavy Palestinian civilian casualties.

"I think it was justified. I think it was proportionate and that doesn't in any way take away the deep regret we have for the loss of a single civilian casualty," Netanyahu said in his first public remarks since the ceasefire came into effect.

On the Israeli side, the loss of 64 soldiers is its biggest toll since the 2006 war against Hezbollah.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned that after three wars in Gaza in six years, international patience with both sides is being tested.

He opened a special meeting of the UN General Assembly with an appeal for a lasting peace.

"The senseless cycle of suffering in Gaza and the West Bank, as well as in Israel, must end," he said.

AFP contributed to this report.
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