Israel reportedly agrees to extend cease-fire for 24 hours
Israel agreed to extend the current cease-fire for another 24 hours, Reuters reported on Monday night.
Palestinian sources reported on Monday that a cease-fire with Israel was expected to be announced just before midnight on Monday.
A Hamas official said that the Islamist group had agreed to prolong the cease-fire by another 24 hours so as to allow for more negotiations with Egyptian officials in Cairo. Israeli officials, meanwhile, are denying that an agreement is in place.
Palestinian News Agency Ma’an reported that the Israeli delegation had left Cairo and was set to return to Israel and present the cabinet with the cease-fire agreement to be approved.
The reported deal comes after significant progress was made in Egyptian-mediated cease-fire talks between Israel and Hamas, according to Palestinian sources.
While there is no word regarding the nature of the discussions, a number of web sites affiliated with Islamic Jihad as well as independent Palestinian sources say that there has been greater movement by both sides toward a deal.
“There is optimism, and it seems as if the chances of reaching an agreement are better than they’ve ever been thus far,” said a Palestinian source currently in Cairo.
Sources in Cairo told the Ma’an news agency that the Egyptian government has presented a two-tiered plan – one security-oriented, and the other political – which includes a mechanism that could lead to a lifting of the siege on Gaza.
“A six-hour negotiating session today, as well as a nine-hour session on Sunday, led to agreement in a number of areas,” a Palestinian source is quoted as telling Ma’an.
Earlier Monday, an Egyptian official told the US-backed Arab-language station Radio Sawa that “until the afternoon, there was no progress in talks between the sides.”
Tarek Fahmi, the head of the Israeli Unit at the Egyptian National Center for Middle East Studies, said that “the goal of the talks today is to neutralize the main crisis points, particularly [the question of] the Gaza airport and Israeli concessions regarding the sea, as well as the issue of the tunnels.” Fahmi said that the negotiating sessions that took place on Monday were “critical.”
“Israel insists on demilitarizing the Gaza Strip from rockets and missiles, and the declaration of a cease-fire that would last between five and seven years,” he said.
“The Palestinian side has yet to compromise on any of the key questions.”
Fahmi added that there was an American proposal to bring the talks before UN mediation if the Cairo discussions fail to produce a deal.
Throughout Monday and over the weekend, Egypt pressured both Israel and Hamas to reach an agreement on a long-term cease-fire before the current truce expires at midnight local time.
According to official reports, Cairo has proposed a cease-fire that would see Palestinian Authority personnel supervise the border crossings. The two sides would then resume discussions for a long-term agreement next month.
Future negotiations would tackle thorny issues, including Hamas’s demands to permit the operation of a seaport and an airport in Gaza. Israel is adamantly opposed to this.
Officials in Jerusalem are reportedly demanding that Hamas return the bodies of two IDF soldiers who were killed during the Gaza ground incursion and whose remains are believed held by the Palestinian Islamist group.
There has been no mention of whether the issue of lifting the blockade has been discussed or will be discussed in future talks.
Israeli officials have reportedly tried to insert “improvements” into the Egyptian initiative. Jerusalem is also seeking to put off negotiations on the most contentious issues until a later date.
“The bad, negative corrections proposed by the Israeli team have made the situation worse,” said Qais Abd al-Karim, a member of the Palestinian delegation.
“If Israel once again insists on demilitarization of the Gaza Strip, then their corrected document will be deemed unacceptable,” the Palestinian negotiator told the Turkish news agency Anatolia. “This issue needs to be addressed in talks for a long-term settlement that will yield the end of the occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian state.”
Earlier reports indicated that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was scheduled to depart for Qatar on Friday, where he will meet with the Hamas political bureau chief, Khaled Mashaal. On Saturday, Abbas is due in Cairo for talks with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
“The Palestinian-Egyptian summit will be held for the purpose of bringing about a cease-fire,” the Palestinian embassy in Cairo said in a statement.
Reuters contributed to this report.