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Ceasefire falls apart in final hours with no renewal in sight

Aug. 13, 2014 7:26 A.M. (Updated: Aug. 14, 2014 12:33 A.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Three rockets from Gaza reportedly hit the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon on Wednesday night as the midnight end of a three-day ceasefire loomed with no breakthrough in negotiations in Cairo in sight.

Soon after the three rockets hit Israel, an explosion was heard in Gaza. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri, however, denied that the group had fired any rockets.

Israeli Channel 2 TV station earlier reported an extension of the ceasefire between Israel and Gaza militants was accepted by the Israeli cabinet on Wednesday evening, after being proposed by Egypt earlier in the day.

Hamas has accused Israel of using the short-term extensions of the ceasefire as a stalling tactic as it refuses to consider any of the Palestinian demands for peace.

The Palestinian delegation to ongoing ceasefire talks in Cairo did not give any response to the proposal, and the delegation cancelled a press conference that was to be given at 9:30 p.m.

Earlier in the day, Israeli forces deployed across border areas near Gaza.

The move comes as negotiations have reached an impasse amid a five-week Israeli assault on Gaza that has left nearly 2,000 Palestinians dead and around 10,000 injured.

Israel pulled back from Gazan cities two weeks ago after suffering heavy losses in battles with Palestinian militant groups. Although it initially floated the idea of maintaining a military presence inside Gaza near the border, it subsequently pulled troops out of those areas as well.

Despite the withdrawal, no long-term ceasefire agreement has been reached, as Israel has refused to accede to Palestinian requests even as Israeli military force has so far failed to subdue resistance.

The Palestinian ceasefire delegation in Cairo has insisted that Israel end its eight-year siege on the Gaza Strip, release dozens of prisoners whom Israel has re-arrested that were released in 2011 as part of the Gilad Shalit exchange, the re-opening of a seaport and airport in Gaza, and the creation of a safe passage between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

These demands are consistent with the terms of the Oslo Accords signed between Israel and the Palestinians in the 1990s, but which Israel has failed to abide by amid its refusal to consider direct negotiations of any kind with Hamas, which it considers a terrorist group.

Israeli authorities have said that they would be willing to extend the ceasefire indefinitely but have also stressed that a long-term agreement should include the demilitarization of the Strip.

Palestinians have scoffed at this demand, saying it was al-Qassam fighters who prevented the full-scale infiltration and re-occupation of Gaza by Israeli forces in recent weeks.
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