Just a few hours before the second 72-hour cease-fire between Israel and Hamas ends on Wednesday at midnight, the possibility of extending the truce for a further 72 hours was the central issue Egyptian mediators and the Palestinian negotiators were grappling with in Cairo, after it emerged that the gaps between Israel and the Palestinians remained still too wide to secure a more long-term agreement.
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Egyptian sources told Haaretz that despite progress in most of the issues under discussion, more time is needed for negotiators to deal with the final wording of some of the agreements, and to overcome a lack of agreement over other topics.
“The sides understand that the progress made so far is encouraging, and that there is no reason to return to the military conflict,” an Egyptian source familiar with the talks said.
Palestinian websites are preparing over the next few hours for speeches by Mohammed Deif, the commander of Hamas’ military wing, and Ismail Haniyeh, the deputy of Hamas leader Khaled Meshal, who has not made any statements for days. These sites are quoting several Israeli media reports on the talks that cite Israeli sources, while the representatives of the delegations in Cairo are staying quiet.
The head of the Palestinian delegation, Azzam al-Ahmad, warned Wednesday morning that the coming hours are “critical.” If no agreement is reached Wednesday, the Palestinians will likely return to the West Bank for consultations with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, he said.
This indicates that there are disagreements among the Palestinian delegates. It is unclear whether these are between the representatives of Abbas - who are willing to accept Cairo’s suggestion for a compromise - and Hamas, or whether there is also disagreement among Hamas members.
In any case, Palestinian sources believe that the delegation will try not to sabotage the whole process, and will accept an extension of the cease-fire.