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Palestine 'cautiously optimistic' on reaching lasting truce deal

Cairo talks continue despite Israeli ceasefire breach near Rafah - solution to key issues like Rafah crossing and Hamas salaries in sight
The Palestinian delegation, headed by Musa Abu Marzouk (C) in Cairo on 11 August (AFP)

There are positive signs of a possible long-term ceasefire between Hamas and Israel, with the Cairo talks continuing into the night on Tuesday.

Various media reports have indicated that some of the key issues, such as the opening of the Rafah border crossing and allowing goods shipments to enter Gaza, have now been solved.

Israeli officials had said on Tuesday morning that there had been “no progress” in the negotiations, and that large gaps remained to be bridged by both sides.

However, Palestinian sources say that six points have since been agreed, while five issues remain outstanding, Palestine’s Ma’an news agency reported.

According to the agency, Egypt has agreed to open its border crossing with Gaza at Rafah, on condition that the Palestinian Authority establish a 1,000-strong force of presidential guards, loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, to control the barrier.

Israel will also allow money to be brought into the Gaza Strip to pay the salaries of Hamas civil servants, reports Israeli daily Haaretz.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad are now said to be “cautiously optimistic” about reaching a deal soon, according to Guardian correspondent Jason Burke.

Another key Palestinian demand, the expansion of fishing waters, also appears to have been met, with Maan reporting that Israel will gradually extend the designated fishing zone off the coast of Gaza to an area of 12 miles (19 kilometres).

But outstanding issues remain, with Israel for now refusing to bow to the Palestinian demand that Gaza be allowed to establish a functional sea port and an airport in the Strip.

No progress was likewise made on the issue of demilitarising the Gaza Strip and there also appears to be no deal to release the remains of an Israeli soldier that are being held by Hamas, Ma’an reported.

Palestinian officials told Reuters earlier on Tuesday that the talks are expected to take another day.

“So far we can’t say a breakthrough has been achieved,” an official said on the condition of anonymity.

But while the Palestinians have seemed enthusiastic in the last several hours, the Israelis have expressed uncertainty that the peace will hold after the current 72-hour ceasefire expires just before midnight on Wednesday.

Israel’s Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said that it is “possible that firing will break out again” after midnight on Wednesday.

In a televised statement given at a navy base on Tuesday afternoon, Yaalon confirmed that, if Hamas fires after the end of the ceasefire “we will fire on them.”

In Tel Aviv, political opposition to the truce also appears is growing, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly busy lobbying reluctant cabinet members to support the deal.

Netanyahu held one-on-one meetings with key ministers like Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, Justice Minister and chief negotiator Tzipi Livni and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, Haaretz reported.

Bennett had announced earlier in the day that he opposes any truce that allows the payment of Hamas officials, saying that he will attempt to sway colleagues in the cabinet against such an agreement.

Breach of ceasefire and West Bank clashes

While the Strip was largely quiet for the second day, there were reports of Israeli fire off the coast of Gaza.

Israel confirmed that it fired shots but stressed that these were warning shots that were fired into the air in an attempt to warn a fishing boat that had ventured into the waters off the coast of the Gaza Strip near Rafah city.

No injuries were reported, and the boat returned to shore shortly after the shots were fired, the Israeli army said.

In a statement, Israeli forces said the boat had strayed outside the permitted area for fishing in waters off Gaza’s coast. Gazans have been prevented from fishing during most of the month-long bombardment of the Strip.

Tensions also continued to brew in the West Bank which has seen large-scale protests in recent weeks.

On Tuesday, a young Palestinian man was injured when Israeli forces shot him during clashes in the town of Qalqilya while four protesters were arrested.