JERUSALEM- Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in Cairo will readdress the thorny issue of a ceasefire and Israel’s Gaza blockade Wednesday, as the clock ticks down to a 2100 GMT deadline ending a 72-hour truce.
By that time, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in the Egyptian capital must have either agreed on a permanent truce, accepted an extension or risk a resumption of more than a month of bloody fighting.
“There has been progress, but not enough to sign an agreement, the negotiations will resume tomorrow (Wednesday)”, a member of the Palestinian delegation told AFP after the latest round of negotiations, without giving further details.
The Israelis flew back to Israel, airport officials said, for likely consultations with their government.
As Gaza’s residents ventured out into the quiet to try to piece together their battered lives, negotiators held a second round of indirect talks Tuesday aimed at finding a durable end to the five-week confrontation.
A senior Israeli official earlier told AFP there was still a long way to go to agree an end to the conflict, which erupted on July 8 when Israel launched military operations to halt cross-border rocket fire from Gaza.
“The negotiations are difficult and gruelling,” a Palestinian official had said of Monday’s opening talks, which lasted almost 10 hours and which were described as “serious”.
Before negotiators met Tuesday an Israeli official played down the chances of success.
“The gaps are still very wide. There has not been progress in the negotiations,” he told AFP.
The teams gather in separate rooms at the headquarters of the Egyptian General Intelligence and never see each other, with mediators shuttling between them with proposals and counter proposals, a source said.
Hamas wants Israel to lift the blockade it imposed on Gaza in 2006 before it will stop rocket attacks. Israel has said it will only facilitate Gaza’s reconstruction if the enclave is fully disarmed.
In Istanbul, a coalition of activists said on Tuesday they would send a flotilla of blockade-busting ships to Gaza by the end of 2014, four years after a similar attempt ended with a deadly raid by Israeli commandos.
“We plan to send the flotilla during 2014,” the Freedom Flotilla Coalition, comprising activists from at least 10 countries, said in a statement.
It did not give a specific date or an estimate on how many vessels or people would participate.
In a sign that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced domestic political battles to sell any deal to his fractious coalition government, he called off a planned meeting of his security cabinet on Tuesday.
Instead, he invited key ministers, mainly hawks, for private meetings, Israeli media reported.