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Ceasefire talks continue in Cairo as midnight deadline nears

Aug. 18, 2014 7:15 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 20, 2014 10:08 A.M.)
CAIRO (Ma'an) -- A six-hour negotiations session was held on Monday following a nine-hour session on Sunday night, Palestinian sources close to the Cairo ceasefire talks told Ma'an.

There are no major disagreements among the Palestinian factions, the sources said.

The five-day ceasefire expires at midnight on Monday, giving the Israeli and Palestinian delegations just hours left to either reach an agreement, accept a further extension or risk a resumption of the fighting which has wreaked destruction across the Gaza Strip.

The aim is to broker a long-term arrangement to halt over a month of bloody fighting which erupted on July 8 although both sides have largely lowered their guns since Aug. 4 thanks to a series of temporary truce arrangements.

Ahead of the deadline, President Mahmoud Abbas was travelling to Doha Monday for talks with exiled Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal and Qatari emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani.

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

As diplomatic efforts intensified, Gaza's health ministry said the death toll from the fighting rose above 2,000 as more people succumbed to injuries. The figures showed 2,016 people had been killed and another 10,196 wounded.

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

Separately, the Israeli army confirmed that five of 64 soldiers killed in combat had died as a result of "friendly fire."

'No positive results'

Despite the concern over the looming deadline, the streets of Gaza City were relatively full, bustling with women and children shopping for food, as men sat outside in the shade, chatting or watching the world go by.

Elderly people could be seen hitching a ride on a donkey cart, as pedestrians picked their way past piles of rubbish and debris from the war.

With the negotiations in their final stretch, meetings at the Egyptian intelligence headquarters resumed Monday, but there was little indication that either side was willing to back down on its demands.

"The fifth day of the ceasefire and the negotiations between the resistance and the Zionist enemy ends today," Hamas' exiled deputy leader Mousa Abu Marzouq wrote on his Facebook page shortly before the talks began.

"No positive results until now. Everything will be decided on the ground."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said Israel would only accept an agreement which contained "a clear answer" to its security needs, while Hamas has insisted there will be no deal without an end to Israel's eight-year blockade on Gaza.

Following talks with Meshaal in Doha, Abbas will travel to Cairo later in the week to meet with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, a Palestinian official told AFP.

In Israel, in absence of concrete information coming from the talks, most commentators were pessimistic about the warring sides reaching an agreement by midnight, saying the gaps are simply too big.

The talks are centered on an Egyptian proposal for a lasting ceasefire, which postpones discussions on the thorniest issues, such as Hamas' demands for a seaport and airport in Gaza, for another month.

Negotiations over exchanging the remains of two Israeli soldiers thought held by Palestinian militants for the release of Palestinian prisoners would also be delayed for a month.

AFP contributed to this report.
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