Israel is willing to extend a ceasefire that ended a month of fighting in Gaza beyond a Friday deadline, an Israeli official has said, but Hamas has denied that a new deal has been reached.
The official, quoted by the Reuters news agency, said: “Israel has expressed its readiness to extend the truce under its current terms,” referring to the 72-hour deal brokered by Egypt that took effect on Tuesday.
But Hamas deputy leader Musa Mohammed Abu Marzouk, part of the Palestinian delegation holding talks in Cairo, denied on Wednesday night that there was yet any agreement for an extension.
“There is no agreement to extend the ceasefire,” he wrote on Twitter.
“Any news about the extension of the truce is unfounded,” added Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri.
Earlier on Wednesday, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended his country’s military actions during the four-week-long assault, blaming Hamas for the fatalities in Gaza.
In a news conference in West Jerusalem, Netanyahu said: “Israel deeply regrets every civilian casualties. The people of Gaza are not our enemy, our enemy is Hamas”.
“Every civilian casualty is a tragedy, a tragedy of Hamas’s own making.”
His comments came as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the deaths in Gaza “have shocked and shamed the world”.
The UN chief has also called for investigation into bombing of UN facility in Gaza.
“Attacks against UN premises, along with other suspected breaches of international law, must be swiftly investigated,” he added.
‘Senseless cycle of suffering’
Netanyahu said Israel’s intense bombardment of Gaza was a necessary response to Hamas attacks.
“It was justified. It was proportionate,” he said.
The prime minister said also that “Hamas is using tactics adopted by other terrorist groups such as Boko Haram, al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group”.
A spokeswoman for the Israeli army told news agency AFP that 27,000 reservists called up for the conflict had been sent home, leaving a force of 55,000 still on active duty, in another sign of growing hopes for long-term quiet.
The UN has called on all parties in the Middle East to find a lasting peaceful solution to the conflict in Gaza.
In a special meeting of the UN General Assembly convened at the request of Arab countries, Ban Ki-moon said: “The senseless cycle of suffering in Gaza and the West Bank, as well as in Israel, must end.
“We will build again but this must be the last time to rebuild. This must stop now,” he told the 193-nation assembly.
Ban called for an end to rocket fire from Gaza and weapons smuggling as well as lifting an Israeli-Egyptian blockade on Gaza and bringing the besieged territory back under one Palestinian government.
The Palestinians have demanded an end to the eight-year Israeli blockade of Gaza and the release of Palestinian prisoners. Israel has resisted those demands.
The Egyptian-mediated 72-hour ceasefire that went into effect on Tuesday has brought relief to both sides after fighting that erupted on July 8 killed 1,875 Palestinians and 67 people on the Israeli side.
In Gaza, where about a half-million people have been displaced by a month of bloodshed, some residents left UN shelters to trek back to neighbourhoods where whole blocks have been destroyed by Israeli shelling and the smell of decomposing bodies fills the air.
Streets in towns in southern Israel, which had been under daily rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, were filled again with playing children.