A three-day ceasefire in Gaza that has brought relief to hundreds of thousands of its residents, is entering its final stretch with the Hamas leadership saying that there will be no extension unless Israel meets its demands.
As talks continued in the Egyptian capital Cairo on Thursday, US President Barack Obama said Gaza, under an Israeli blockade since 2007, could not remain cut off from the world forever.
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“Long-term, there has to be a recognition that Gaza cannot sustain itself permanently closed off from the world,” Obama told a news conference in Washington, saying the Palestinians needed to see “some prospects for an opening of Gaza so that they do not feel walled off”.
The 72-hour truce is set to expire at 05:00 GMT on Friday morning and lifting the blockade is the main Palestinian demand in the ceasefire talks in Cairo.
Israeli media has reported that the government has offered to extend the ceasefire for another 72 hours.
On Thursday, Ismael Radwan, a senior Hamas leader, told Al Jazeera: “The truce will not be renewed, it cannot be renewed without real achievements.
“As we speak, no response has been received to Hamas’s demands, which means there is no breakthrough in this respect.”
Reports said Britain, France and Germany have put forward an initiative that could bring EU representatives to the Gaza border.
Germany’s mass-circulation Bild daily also reported on Thursday that Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has called for EU “inspectors” to monitor Gaza’s borders.
Although Israel has expressed willingness to extend the truce indefinitely, there was no immediate word on its response to that.
“Today will be a crucial day,” a member of the Palestinian delegation told the AFP news agency.
If a truce extension was proposed “we will think about it .. and that depends on how negotiations proceed today.”
Israel’s Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon sounded a cautious note, saying it was not clear where the talks would lead.
“I’m not sure what the outcome will be of the current discussions in Egypt,” he said.
Rally for resistance
Al Jazeera’s Nicole Johnston, reporting from Jerusalem, said there were also reports in Egyptian media that the truce could be extended, but few details were coming out of Cairo on any progress made.
“It really goes to show how difficult it is for both sides to reach an agreement,” Johnston said.
Four weeks of bloodshed between Israel and Hamas has killed 1,886 Palestinians and 67 on the Israeli side.
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Figures released by UNICEF, the UN children’s fund, indicate that 73 percent of the victims, or 1,354 people, were civilians.
Of that number, at least 429 were children – around 30 percent of the civilian casualties.
In Gaza City, hundreds turned out to attend a victory rally on Thursday where the speakers whipped up the crowd, which chanted back: “Resistance, resistance, resistance!”
“We have won the military battle and with the permission of God we’ll win the political battle,” Hamas MP Mushir al-Masri told them as loudspeakers blared out victory songs.
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 on Wednesday at the request of Arab countries, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said: “The senseless cycle of suffering in Gaza and the West Bank, as well as in Israel, must end.