Negotiations to reach a permanent cease-fire between Israel and Hamas are expected to continue Tuesday, following an agreement by Israel and Hamas to extend a temporary cease-fire until midnight on Wednesday.
Residents in the South were warned to stay near a protected space in case rocket firings on Israel start up again, though there are no other restrictions placed on the region for now.
For the last eight days, Egypt has brokered the latest stage of indirect talks. Reports out of Cairo indicated that an understanding was in the works that addressed some Palestinian demands, while delaying discussion on other issues for one month.
Unconfirmed Palestinian sources said that Israel agreed Monday to certain conditions such as opening Gaza border crossings for building materials to be transferred under international supervision, and an extension of the enclave's fishing zone by an additional six miles. Israel has not confirmed the reports.
Should both sides fail to reach an agreement, Israel hopes for a de facto understanding that quiet will be met with quiet.
As a protective measure, as an initial eight-day cease-fire expired Monday night, IDF troops amassed at the Gaza border, in case the process fell apart and quickly descended into violence.
As another precaution, train service between the southern cities of Ashkelon and Sderot was halted on Monday, because the carriages are not protected.
“We are prepared for any scenario,” Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on a visit to the Ashdod Naval Base on Monday evening.
Accompanying him, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon added that “Operation Protective Edge is not over. As we promised, we will not stop until we bring quiet and security. We are prepared for the results of the discussions in Cairo whether they bring quiet or if someone tries to challenge us with escalation.
The IDF is prepared and ready to respond strongly to any development. Hamas will not drag us into a war of attrition, and if it tries, it will be struck very hard.”
Azzam al-Ahmad, senior leader of President Mahmoud Abbas's mainstream Fatah movement, said in Cairo that there had been "no progress on any point" in talks aimed at resolving the Gaza conflict.
"We hope that every minute of the coming 24 hours will be used to reach an agreement, and if not (successful), the cycle of violence will continue," Ahmad said.
He accused Israel of "maneuvering and stalling" as gaps on key issues continued to dog efforts to achieve a long-term deal between Israel and militant groups in the Gaza Strip, dominated by Hamas Islamists, which would allow reconstruction aid to flow in after five weeks of fighting.
Still, the Palestinian Ma’an News Agency reported late Monday that Egyptian legal advisers were drafting the new ceasefire agreement, which would be announced in Cairo shortly before midnight.
The agency did not provide details of the purported agreement.
Palestinian sources in Cairo said that the two parties agreed on easing certain restrictions imposed on the Gaza Strip, including improving the movement of people and goods at the border crossings, as well as expanding the fishing zone for Palestinian fishermen.
The sources said that Israel and the Palestinians would launch Egyptian-mediated talks after one month concerning other demands, such as the opening of an airport and seaport in the Gaza Strip.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad officials would neither confirm nor deny the reports about a new cease-fire agreement.
The armed wings of the two groups published separate statements warning that there would be no cease-fire unless Israel accepted all the demands of the Palestinians.
Senior Hamas official Moussa Abu Marzouk accused Israel of stalling and insisted in a post on his Twitter account that the group "will never cede any" demands for a comprehensive deal.
Israel however said it could not make any concessions that put its security at risk. “The Israeli team in Cairo has been instructed to insist on Israel’s security needs, and the IDF is prepared for very action strong action if fire is resumed,” Netanyahu said.
He has emphasized repeatedly in recent days that any rocket fire from Gaza on Israel would be met with a powerful response.
Environment Minister Gilad Erdan told Channel 2 on Monday night that “if Hamas continues to fire, our policy will be, as we proved last week, a massive air bombardment.”
When Palestinians in Gaza launch rockets against Israel, they are attempting to kill its citizens, Erdan said. Should those attacks continue, he warned, Israel would have to consider a ground operation and possibly even reoccupy Gaza.
Another possibility is that the cease-fire will expire quietly, with Hamas not renewing its rocket fire, as efforts continue to find a longer- term arrangement.
Erdan said that such a de facto understanding is preferable to a bad agreement. An agreement is only in Israel’s interest if it includes a demilitarized Hamas, he said.
Netanyahu, meanwhile, paid an unannounced visit to Sderot Monday and met with youth group volunteers who have been active there throughout Operation Protective Edge.
Netanyahu counseled patience and determination, quoting Rabbi Abraham Issac Kook’s dictum that “the eternal people is not afraid of a long road” – words that seemed to indicate that the operation would not be wrapped up in one neat package agreed upon in Cairo.
“Your fortitude and resilience gives us considerable strength to use considerable strength,” Netanyahu said to the youth group charges.
“We are in the midst of a diplomatic campaign, and in a diplomatic campaign we need the same things [as in a military campaign]: a lot of strength, patience, persistence, and wisdom.”
Repeating what he said the day before at the cabinet meeting, Netanyahu seemed trying to prepare the population for the likelihood that no agreement would be reached and the Gaza operation would continue, both through diplomatic and possibly military means. The prime minister said that in the turbulent Middle East it is not enough to have strength and power, but also necessary to have a great deal of patience and determination.
“We have it in abundance, and you prove it,” he said to the youth group members,” before quoting Kook. Netanyahu used the same quote from Kook on June 20 in a statement to the nation he made early in the ground incursion in Gaza, on a day when Israel lost 13 soldiers.
Meanwhile, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni – a member of the eight-person security cabinet that would have to vote on any agreement reached in Cairo – said that she does not think it is a good idea to be engaged even in indirect negotiations with Hamas.
She said, however, that there is now an opportunity for a new arrangement in Gaza – to ensure that the sides do not return to the “same old, same old” – and that this would include restoring the Palestinian Authority to the Gaza Strip, preventing Hamas from rearming, and – over the long term and with the introduction of other international actors in the process – demilitarizing Gaza.
In New York, meanwhile, the United Nations Security Council met to discuss the Middle East, including the cease-fire talks in Gaza.
Its special envoy to the peace process, Robert Serry, said that for the situation in Gaza to improve, Hamas would have to yield power to the PA and the Strip would need to be reconstructed.
Egypt and Norway plan to co-host a donor conference to help toward the reconstruction of Gaza once a durable cease-fire has been negotiated, the Norwegian Foreign Ministry said on Monday.
“The invitations to the conference, to be held in Cairo, will be duly extended once an agreement on a sustainable cease-fire has been reached as a result of the ongoing talks in Cairo,” the ministry said in a statement.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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