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Latest Gaza truce is 'last chance' to broker peace deal

By Staff Reporter

Israeli and Palestinian factions agreed to a new 72-hour ceasefire beginning at midnight last night to allow the resumption of negotiations in Cairo aimed at securing a durable end to the month-long conflict in Gaza.

Israel, however, continued launching air strikes well into the evening. Missiles from two drones set ablaze a Gaza City warehouse packed with inflammable heating materials. It was not clear whether anyone had been inside. The warehouse was 200 metres from the main hotel used by foreigners.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said negotiations during the new truce would be "the last chance" for a deal, while a senior Israeli official said: "Israel has accepted Egypt's proposal."

Israeli negotiators will return to Cairo today to resume indirect talks with the Palestinians if the truce held, the official added.

Israel's delegation returned home on Friday with negotiations deadlocked. Hamas rejected an extension of the previous ceasefire, firing some rockets into southern Israel, which retaliated with air strikes that reportedly killed 10 Palestinians.

A new ceasefire will provide at least temporary relief to Gazans. About 1,900 people, the majority of them civilians, have been killed since Israel launched Operation Protective Edge on July 8. At least 64 Israeli soldiers and three civilians have been killed in Israel, following rocket fire from militant groups in Gaza.

However, the latest news still leaves open the question of whether a new round of negotiations will be any more successful than the last. "What has been offered so far is not acceptable," Mushir al Masri of Hamas said. "We are waiting for new offers."

The stakes for Hamas in these negotiations are high, because of the need to show Gazans a gain from four weeks of appalling loss and destruction. That means lifting the siege, which every Gazan wants and which, in theory at least, the international community supports. "Homeless Palestinians will start turning against Hamas if it is not able to open the crossings and bring in construction materials," said Mkhaima Abusada, the leading Gaza analyst at Al Azhar University.

Israel has so far been determined to resist any concessions that Hamas could present as a victory. It is insisting on Hamas "demilitarisation", something that Mr Abusada said Palestinians would not agree to without an end to occupation.

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