Israel agrees to extend Gaza truce

US Secretary of State John Kerry with Qatari Foreign Minister Khaled al-Attiyah (right) and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in Paris. (Reuters)

US Secretary of State John Kerry with Qatari Foreign Minister Khaled al-Attiyah (right) and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in Paris. (Reuters)

Israel has agreed to extend by four hours a humanitarian truce agreed with Hamas and other armed groups in the Gaza Strip on Saturday, according to an Israeli government official.

It was not immediately clear if Hamas Islamists, who control Gaza, had agreed to prolong the original 12-hour ceasefire and continue the quiet until midnight.

“As far as Israel is concerned, there is no reason to prevent Gaza’s people from stocking up on supplies, so long as the military can continue its work against the tunnels. Our war is not against the population,” said the official, who declined to be named.

Israel’s military agreed to hold fire for 12 hours on Saturday, but only on condition that it could carry on searching for tunnels used by militants. 

The Islamist group Hamas, which dominates Gaza, said Palestinian factions would abide by the brief truce. It had no immediate comment on any extension.

International mediation
US, European and regional powers seeking to mediate an end to the conflict in Gaza called on Israel and Hamas earlier on Saturday to extend the ceasefire in a bid to win time and discuss each side’s grievances.

US Secretary of State John Kerry has pushed efforts to end 19 days of conflict in which 940 Palestinians, many of them civilians, have been killed.
He met senior EU diplomat Pierre Vimont and counterparts from Europe and Qatar and Turkey – prime interlocutors with Hamas – at talks hosted by France in Paris.

“All of us call on the parties to extend the humanitarian ceasefire that is currently under way,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said after the meeting, which also included the foreign ministers of Britain, Germany and Italy.

“All of us want to obtain, as quickly as possible, a durable, negotiated ceasefire that responds both to Israeli needs in terms of security and to Palestinian needs in terms of the social-economic development [of Gaza] and access to the territory of Gaza,” Fabius said.

The US refuses to deal with Hamas because it regards the Palestinian faction as a terrorist group.

Halt loss of life
“The necessity right now is to stop the loss of life,” British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond told reporters. “And we stop the loss of life by getting this ceasefire to roll over for 12 hours, 24 hours or 48 hours - and then again until we have established the level of confidence that allows the parties to sit round a table to talk about the substantive issues.”

Israel rejected international proposals on Friday for an extended ceasefire, a government source said. Kerry said no formal proposals had been put forward but acknowledged that there were still disagreements on the terminology to be used.

“For now the agenda is about getting the ceasefire extended without further preconditions ... Once we start going into the demands of the different parties, and the underlying grievances, we run into problems,” Hammond said.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said a ceasefire would only last if Gaza “no longer serves as weapons depot for Hamas and living conditions of the people improve”. – Reuters

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