After shaky start, Gaza cease-fire extension appears to hold
GAZA CITY (CNN) — After a shaky start, an extended cease-fire in Gaza appeared to be holding Thursday.
Rocket fire from Gaza late Wednesday, near the end of the initial truce, and early Thursday, as the extension began, raised doubts about whether it would last. Israeli airstrikes in response to the rockets added to fears that fighting was ratcheting up again.
But the exchange of fire was limited and didn’t last long. Quiet returned to the skies over Gaza, aside from the familiar buzz of Israeli drones.
By noon Thursday in Gaza City, many people had left U.N. shelters to visit the neighborhoods they had fled during the fighting, and traffic had once again filled the bustling streets.
Israeli and Palestinian officials said they had accepted the five-day extension of the truce. The initial three-day cease-fire had expired at midnight.
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev accused Hamas, the militant Islamic group that holds power in Gaza, of violating the truce with the overnight rocket fire.
But Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri had earlier denied that the organization had anything to do with firing any rockets toward Israel, leaving it unclear which Palestinian group had launched them.
‘Still sticking points’
Israeli and Palestinian delegations had been negotiating in Cairo through Egyptian go-betweens in an attempt to find a more lasting end to hostilities. Under the cease-fire extension, they are expected to return to the indirect talks over the weekend.
“There remains a positive atmosphere towards reaching a comprehensive agreement,” Azzam al-Ahmed, the lead Palestinian negotiator told reporters late Wednesday. “But there are still sticking points.”
Khalil al-Hayya, a leader of Hamas, described the negotiations as both difficult and serious. He accused Israel of “playing semantic games.”
“Since we are determined (to work things out), we agreed to extend the humanitarian truce in order to hold more in-depth consultations — and to allow more pressure on the Israelis, internally and externally, so they agree with our demands,” the Hamas leader said.
The two sides’ demands aren’t easy to reconcile.
Israel says it wants Hamas to disarm and Gaza to be demilitarized.
The Palestinian delegation in Egypt, which includes Hamas, has demanded an end to Israel’s economic blockade on Gaza, an extension of fishing rights off the coast, the reopening of an airport and seaport and the release of prisoners held by Israelis.
Al-Ahmed, head of the Palestinian team, said late Wednesday that there’s still no agreement on the opening of crossings into Israel, “the launching of a free fishing zone” and various “security issues.”
Israel: Hamas is ‘wild card’
The Gaza conflict has killed more than 1,900 people on the Palestinian side, most of them believed to be civilians, and 67 on the Israeli side, most of them soldiers.
Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system has intercepted some of the roughly 3,500 rockets fired from Gaza since the conflict began.
Regev told CNN on Thursday that the key to a longer-term solution was an end to rocket fire from Gaza.
“If there’s no hostile fire from Gaza into Israel, of course we can have serious discussions about easing restrictions,” he said. They’re only there in the first place as a response to the violence.”
Hamas is the “wild card,” Regev said, expressing skepticism that the group would give up violence.
But Hanan Ashrawi, an executive member of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said the Israelis “keep blaming Hamas for everything.”
She suggested that the Israeli government “stop trying to demonize, dehumanize and blame Hamas and the Palestinians,” saying it should instead “make the cease-fire hold and move to ending the occupation and dealing with all the root causes.”
CNN’s Martin Savidge reported from Gaza City, and Jethro Mullen reported and wrote from Hong Kong. CNN’s Reza Sayah, Ali Younes, Rosemary Church and Errol Barnett contributed to this report.