Cease-fire talks were to continue in Cairo on Thursday, as the 72-hour truce between Israel and Gaza entered its final day. Contradictory statements came from the Hamas and Israeli delegations regarding willingness to extend the truce, and Egyptian officials reported that there were considerable differences between the Israeli and Palestinian positions in the cease-fire talks.
The Egyptians warned that the talks could stalemate if both sides remained entrenched in their positions. The sources said the Israeli delegation presented its demand to demilitarize the Gaza Strip as well as Hamas and the other terror organizations. This was seen by the Palestinian delegation as a red line, they said.
An Israeli official was cited by Reuters late Wednesday saying that an agreement to extend the existing cease-fire in Gaza by 72 hours has been reached in Cairo. The official was quoted as saying that Israel "has expressed its readiness to extend the truce under its current terms." If the report is accurate, the current cease-fire, which is due to expire at 8 A.M. on Friday, would be extended to Monday morning.
Another senior Israeli official would not confirm the report, though he stressed that Israel would be prepared to accept an extension of the cease-fire as long as it was not accompanied by any pre-conditions, as was the case with the original cease-fire on Sunday night.
Senior Hamas officials continued to deny agreeing to any extension. Hamas officials also said that it would consider resuming fire on Israel from Friday morning, since its demands are not being addressed. A senior Hamas political leader based in Cairo, Moussa Abu Marzouk, said on Twitter late on Wednesday night that "there is no agreement" to prolong the ceasefire.
"Extending the 72-hour calm for another period was not discussed (with Hamas in Cairo today)," said Sami Abu Zuhri, the Hamas spokesman in Gaza.
Earlier a senior official with the Islamist movement's armed wing threatened to quit the talks without progress towards achieving its demands to lift a Gaza blockade and free prisoners held by Israel.
"Unless the conditions of the resistance are met, the negotiating team will withdraw from Cairo and then it will be up to the resistance in the field," a senior commander of the armed wing told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Egypt's intelligence chief met a Palestinian delegation in Cairo, the state news agency MENA said, a day after he conferred with Israeli representatives. The Palestinian team, led by an official from Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah party, includes envoys from Hamas and the Islamic Jihad group.
An Egyptian official said that while the details were being hashed out, "the indirect talks between the Palestinians and Israelis are moving forward," one Egyptian official said, making clear that the opposing sides were not meeting face to face. "It is still too early to talk about outcomes but we are optimistic."
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri told reporters his country was working hard for a deal and sought "solutions to protect the Palestinian people and their interests".
Meanwhile, the U.S. special envoy to the talks Frank Lowenstein arrived in Cairo on Wednesday evening to take part in the talks, a State Department spokesman said.
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