Gaza truce efforts continue amid air strikes

Mediators hope to reach agreement in Cairo after three-day ceasefire expired between Israel and Hamas.

Hamas rejected another 72-hour truce after the ceasefire expired on Friday, accusing Israel of stalling progress [AP]

Egypt has called for an immediate return to ceasefire in the Gaza Strip and said progress has been made in the negotiations involving Palestinian factions and Israel.

Speaking from Gaza after several Israeli air strikes hit the enclave on Saturday morning, Al Jazeera’s Andrew Simmons said there were reports of movement towards an overall deal.

“Both sides are saying the door is not closed. The Palestinians are still in Cairo and there are talks scheduled in the next few hours. There are also unconfirmed reports that some Israeli officials are still engaged in talks,” he said.

In the Egyptian capital, the foreign ministry called on both sides “to return immediately to the ceasefire and exploit the opportunity available to resume negotiations on the very limited sticking points that remain in the fastest possible time”.

Egypt mediates the talks but is meeting separately with each party. Israel and Hamas deny each other’s legitimacy, with Hamas rejecting Israel’s right to exist and Israel rejecting Hamas as a terrorist organisation.

“There had been an agreement on the vast majority of matters that are important to the Palestinian people, but some limited points remained undecided, a matter that should have led to an acceptance to renew the ceasefire,” the Egyptian foreign ministry said.

The head of a Palestinian delegation in Cairo said a day earlier that they were committed to achieving a truce.

“We told the Egyptians [mediators] we are sitting here to achieve a final agreement that restores the rights” of Palestinians, Azzam al-Ahmed told reporters.

Hamas and the Islamic Jihad group had rejected a 72-hour extension of the three-day ceasefire that expired on Friday, accusing Israel of stalling progress.

Hamas and Palestine Liberation Organisation officials have laid out a number of demands, including the lifting of Israel’s eight-year blockade of Gaza and the building of a sea port. They also want Israel to free 125 key prisoners.

Houses and mosques hit

Israeli warplanes pounded targets in Gaza on Saturday, killing at least five people, according to the Gaza health ministry.

Two people were killed in a strike that “targeted a motorbike in the al-Maghazi camp” and another three bodies were pulled from the rubble “of the al-Qassam mosque that was bombed by planes” in the Nuseirat camp, spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said.

Al Jazeera’s Simmons reported that six houses were targeted overnight along with three mosques.

“Al-Qassam mosque was completely destroyed,” he said.

At least five rockets were fired from Gaza in the morning, our correspondent also reported.

Gaza Under Attack: One Month On

The month-long conflict flared once again after Palestinian fighters launched pre-dawn rocket attacks on Friday and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the military to retaliate “forcefully”, blaming Hamas for breaching the ceasefire.

Five Palestinians were killed and at least 31 others wounded in Friday’s air strikes, said Qudra. Among the dead was a 10-year-old boy.

Some Palestinian families who had returned home during the 72-hour truce trickled back to shelter in UN-run schools as fighting resumed.

In the al-Tuffah district of Gaza City, hundreds of refugees were seen living in classrooms, laundry hanging off balconies and a scrum of people queuing for UN food handouts.

At least 1,898 Palestinians and 67 people on the Israeli side, almost all soldiers, have been killed since Israel launched the offensive on July 8 with the stated aim to stop rockets from Gaza and dismantle the tunnel network used by Hamas to smuggle weapons.