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Gaza Cease-Fire Holds For 2nd Day

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A Palestinian walks through a destroyed house in Rafah's district of Shawkah in the southern Gaza Strip, Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014. The attack at the Shawkah district east of the Gaza town of Rafah drew what was by far the heaviest shelling by the Israeli military in the Gaza war, killing nearly 100 people that day alone and instantly unraveling a three-day ceasefire shortly after it came into force. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
A Palestinian walks through a destroyed house in Rafah's district of Shawkah in the southern Gaza Strip, Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014. The attack at the Shawkah district east of the Gaza town of Rafah drew what was by far the heaviest shelling by the Israeli military in the Gaza war, killing nearly 100 people that day alone and instantly unraveling a three-day ceasefire shortly after it came into force. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

CAIRO (AP) — Indirect Israeli-Palestinian negotiations over extending a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip and ending a blockade of the battered territory got underway in Cairo on Wednesday, with both sides taking hard-line positions and much jockeying expected ahead.

Israel wants the Islamic militant Hamas to disarm, or at least ensure it cannot re-arm, before considering the group's demand that the territory's borders be opened. Israel and Egypt imposed a closure after the Hamas takeover of Gaza in 2007, although Egypt allows individuals to cross intermittently.

"The two sides have reviewed what they consider issues of concern," Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri said at a news conference, describing the matter as "complicated and not easy."

Hazem Abu Shanab, a member of Fatah, one of the main factions involved in the talks, said disarmament would require Israel to pull out from occupied Palestinian territory.

"As long as there is occupation, there will be resistance and there will be weapons," he said. "The armament is linked to the occupation."

Egyptian mediators have been shuttling between the delegations. An Egyptian airport official said the Israelis were back in Cairo Wednesday evening after flying out earlier in the day. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters.

Meanwhile, in Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended Israel's intense bombardment of Gaza, saying that despite the high civilian death toll it was a "justified" and "proportionate" response to Hamas attacks.

Speaking to international journalists, Netanyahu presented video footage he said showed militants firing rockets from areas near schools and Hamas deploying civilians as human shields.

"Our enemy is Hamas, our enemies are the other terrorist organizations trying to kill our people and we have taken extraordinary measures to avoid civilian casualties," he said.

Nearly 1,900 Palestinians have been killed in the fighting, three-quarters of them civilians, according to the United Nations. Israel says some 900 Palestinian militants were among the dead. Sixty-four Israeli soldiers and three civilians inside Israel have also been killed.

The Palestinian delegation in Cairo is composed of negotiators from all major factions, including Hamas, and is meeting with Egypt's intelligence chief for briefings on Israel's demands.

"The most important thing to us is removing the blockade and starting to reconstruct Gaza," said Bassam Salhi, a Palestinian delegate. "There can be no deal without that."

Shukri said he hoped the cease-fire, set to expire at 8 a.m. Friday (0500 GMT), would be extended, and an Egyptian security official said Cairo was pressing Israel for an extension.

There has been no official Israeli response, though an official at Netanyahu's office said Israel has "no problem" with "unconditional extensions of the cease-fire." He, like the Egyptian security official, spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Izzat al-Rishq, a senior Hamas member, told the Palestinian news agency that the delegation has yet to receive an answer to their demands and would condition any acceptance of an extended cease-fire on how the talks progress. "Our finger is on the trigger," he said.

While negotiations are still in the early stages, the outlines of a possible solution have emerged, including an internationally funded reconstruction of Gaza overseen by a Palestinian unity government led by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The Western-backed Abbas lost control of Gaza in the Hamas takeover of 2007.

In a step toward reconstruction, Norway is organizing a donor conference, tentatively set for the beginning of September.

Regarding an easing of the blockade, a statement by the Egyptian intelligence agency indicated Egypt would not agree to major changes at the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza, and the onus of lifting the border closure would fall on Israel.

"Israel is the one that sealed all the crossings from the Israeli side and it doesn't allow commodities and goods or individuals to cross, aiming at besieging the strip and throw the whole responsibility on Egypt," the statement said.

Cairo also refuses to open its border fully as long as Hamas, not the Palestinian authority led by Abbas, controls the Gaza side of the terminal.

The statement took aim at Hamas, saying it was not permitting its own wounded population to cross into Egypt. Hamas "continues to put obstacles in front of the families, allowing only its foreign members to cross while barring its Palestinian members under the pretext that Egypt is barring them," it said.

Rafah is closed to commercial traffic and only individuals are permitted to cross, but Egypt has sharply restricted travel of Gaza residents over the past year and waiting lists have grown.

Shukri, the Egyptian foreign minister, said the talks were giving priority to the Israeli-controlled crossings and how to operate them to "meet the demands of the Palestinian people."

The current round of confrontations began with the June 12 abduction and killing of three Israeli teens in the West Bank, which Israel blamed on Hamas and rounded up hundreds of its activists, a move followed by barrages of Gaza rocket fire on Israel.

Israel launched airstrikes on July 8 that it said were aimed at stopping the rocket fire, and expanded the operation on July 17 by sending in ground forces to destroy a network of tunnels used to stage attacks.

On Wednesday, Israel's Justice Ministry announced the arrest of Hussam al-Qawasmi, the suspected mastermind behind the killing of the Israeli teens. He allegedly led a three-man cell affiliated with Hamas, though the militant group has not claimed any connection to the teens' abduction and killings.

In Gaza, residents took advantage of the calm to return to their devastated homes and inspect the damage.

People made their way over buckled roads, through dangling power lines and overturned trees to inspect their neighborhoods. Along the way, rows of flattened buildings alternated with moderately damaged structures — and the rare unscathed building.

Utility crews were working frantically to repair downed electricity and telephone lines. Gaza's only power plant was shut down after it was badly damaged by an Israeli attack and repairs are expected to take months, leaving the densely populated strip with only two to three hours of electricity a day, via Egypt and Israel.

_____

Associated Press writers Karin Laub and Ibrahim Barzak in Gaza City, Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah and Peter Enav, Joe Federman and Ian Deitch in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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From Reuters:

The White House on Friday urged Israel and the Palestinians to resume talks and do what they can to protect civilians after Egyptian-mediated negotiations failed to extend a ceasefire and rocket fire resumed.

"The United States is very concerned about today's developments in Gaza," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters.

"We condemn the renewed rocket fire and we are concerned about the safety and security of civilians on both sides of that conflict," he said.

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Five Palestinians, including a 10-year-old boy, have been killed in Israeli airstrikes on Gaza since a ceasefire fell apart on Friday, a Palestinian medical official reported to Agence France Presse.

Meanwhile, the Israeli army said Palestinian militants fired 35 rockets into Israel on Friday, injuring a soldier and a civilian.

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The father of a ten-year old Palestinian boy, who was killed in an Israeli air strike on the Sheikh Radwan neighbourhood in northern Gaza City, mourns at the city's Al-Shifa hospital, on August 8, 2014. (MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images)

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From Reuters:

Palestinian factions will remain in Cairo and press on with Egyptian-mediated talks despite the end of the ceasefire in Gaza, the head of the delegation, Fatah official Azzam Ahmed, said on Friday.

"We are not for escalation. We are ready to continue through our Egyptian brothers in negotiating to reach a final agreement that would return the rights to their owners," Ahmed said. "I mean here lifting the blockade of Gaza."

Ahmed said Palestinian negotiators were due to meet Egyptian intelligence officials, who have been mediating the talks, later in the day. He said Palestinian factions were united in their decision not to extend the 72-hour truce that ended at 0500 GMT and had been clear about their basic demands to end the conflict.

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Reuters reports:

Egypt called on Friday for an immediate resumption of the ceasefire in Gaza and a return to the negotiating table, saying that only a few outstanding issues remained in negotiations it was mediating between Israel and the Palestinians.

"The foreign ministry calls on all sides to rise to their responsibilities ... and to return immediately to the ceasefire commitment and exploit the opportunity available to resume negotiations on the very limited sticking points that remain in the fastest possible time," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

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A 72-hour cease-fire expired at 8 a.m. today, and not long after, Gaza militants began firing rockets at Israel, The Associated Press reported.

The Israeli military said at least 10 rockets had been fired at Israel since the truce ended. Prior to the attacks, a senior official for Hamas said the militant groups would not extend the cease-fire.

For more, click here.

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From Reuters:

Israel has conditionally agreed to extend a ceasefire that ended a month of fighting in Gaza beyond a Friday deadline, an Israeli official said on Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The official did not say for how much longer Israel had agreed to extend the truce, only that: "Israel has expressed its readiness to extend the truce under its current terms," referring to the deal brokered by Egypt that took effect on Tuesday.

Hamas had no immediate comment.

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ABC Foreign Editor Jon Williams reports that the IDF have confirmed the rocket sirens are sounding, but are checking to see if it is a false alarm.

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08/05/2014 4:20 PM EDT
Israel Arrests Kidnapping Suspect

Reuters reports that Israel has arrested one of the suspects in the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank in June.

Hussam Kawasme, a 40-year-old resident of the West Bank city of Hebron, was arrested on July 11 in connection with the killing of Israelis Gil-Ad Shaer, Naftali Fraenkel and Eyal Yifrah, who went missing on June 12 and were discovered dead a couple of weeks later.

Their kidnapping sparked a cycle of violence that led to the month-long conflict between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.

Kawasme's arrest was made public for the first time on Tuesday in a document from an Israeli court case over whether houses belonging to him and two other suspects - who remain at large - should be destroyed as a punitive measure.

The lawyers listed as representing Kawasme were not reachable for comment.

The court document said Kawasme had admitted to helping to organize the kidnapping - securing funding from the Hamas Islamist group in Gaza and purchasing weapons which he passed on to the two other suspects who carried out the attack.

Kawasme also helped to bury the bodies of the teenagers in a plot of land he had bought a few months earlier, it said.

Israel has named the other two suspects in the case as Marwan Kawasme and Amar Abu Aysha.

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India's NDTV has released footage that appears to show three Palestinian militants setting up a rocket launching site in a crowded area of Gaza. The rarity of the video is remarkable, as militants in the enclave are notoriously covert in their launching operations.

NDTV journalist Sreenivasan Jain describes the scene from his neighboring balcony, narrating as blurred figures move in and out of the suspected rocket site.

Read more here.

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In an interview with HuffPost UK, former British Foreign Office minister Baroness Warsi explained why she dramatically quit the government on Tuesday.

Speaking exclusively to The Huffington Post UK in her first interview since resigning on Tuesday morning, the Tory peer accused the coalition of failing to act as an "honest broker" in the Middle East and called for an immediate arms embargo against Israel.

"The British government can only play a constructive role in solving the Middle East crisis if it is an honest broker," the former Foreign Office minister said, "and at the moment I do not think it is."

Read the full story here.

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From the Associated Press:

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Jordan has circulated a revised U.N. resolution calling for a durable cease-fire in the Gaza war and condemning "all violence and hostilities against civilians."

Jordan's new U.N. Ambassador Dina Kawar said the draft resolution was submitted to the Security Council on Tuesday in a form that could be put to a vote.

"We are in consultation with all council members and we hope by the next day or two that we come with a product," she said.

The draft resolution calls for "the sustained reopening" of crossing points into Gaza and calls on the U.N. to establish a mechanism to monitor implementation of a cease-fire agreement.

It makes no mention of Hamas or its rocketing of Israel and is likely to face an uphill struggle winning U.S. approval.

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Agence France Presse reports on an initial assessment of the cost of damage to the Gaza Strip after weeks of fighting between Israel and Hamas. Palestinian deputy economy minister Taysir Amro said "direct damages" will cost Gaza at least -6 billion in damage, and that the number will rise once further assessment of the full scale of damage is possible, according to the news agency.

Read the full story here.

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From Reuters:

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad al-Malki said there was "clear evidence" of war crimes by Israel during its offensive in Gaza as he met International Criminal Court prosecutors on Tuesday to push for an investigation.

Malki visited The Hague shortly after Israel and the Palestinian Islamist Hamas movement that rules Gaza entered a 72-hour truce mediated by Egypt in an effort to pave the way for an extended ceasefire.

Malki said the Palestinian Authority wanted to give the ICC jurisdiction to investigate alleged crimes by all sides and had discussed a timeline with prosecutors to join the court. He did not provide details.

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08/05/2014 6:35 AM EDT
Gaza, Post-Offensive
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Sayeeda Warsi, senior minister of state at the British Foreign Office, has tendered her resignation because she can "no longer support" the country's policy on Gaza, BBC News reported.

Warsi took to Twitter to confirm the news:

Click here for more.

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08/05/2014 2:23 AM EDT
72-Hour Cease-Fire Takes Effect
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A spokesman for Hamas told Reuters that the Islamist group also agrees to a Egyptian ceasefire proposal.

"Hamas told Egypt a short while ago of its acceptance of a 72-hour period of calm," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters.

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An Israeli official says Israel has agreed to a temporary Egyptian-brokered ceasefire, Reuters reports.

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Egypt is urging senior Israeli and Palestinian delegations to join in talks on a permanent ceasefire for Gaza in the Egyptian capital, Reuters reports. Cairo also calls on Palestinians and Israelis to accept a proposal for a 72-hour ceasefire that would start tomorrow morning.

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08/04/2014 3:29 PM EDT
Ceasefire Agreement?

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports that the Palestinian factions have agreed to an Egyptian proposal for a 72-hour ceasefire that would start tomorrow morning. While Palestinians officials have said Israel agreed to the truce as well, there is no official response from the Israeli government yet.

Read more here.


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Britain is investigating the possible death of one of its citizens in Gaza, Reuters reports on Monday. The country's Foreign Office said it had received reports a British national was killed in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Sunday.

More from Reuters:

(Reuters) - Britain is "urgently" investigating reports that a British national was killed in Gaza over the weekend, a spokesman for the British government said on Monday.

Britain sought to establish the man's fate as a brief Israeli truce to allow aid to reach Palestinians ended amid accusations of strikes by both sides, while Jerusalem was rocked by two attacks that appeared to be a backlash against the war in Gaza.

Citing friends of the man, British media reported that an aid worker from Rochdale in northern England had been killed on Sunday during an Israeli strike on Rafah while he was delivering supplies for a hospital.

"We are aware of the reports of the death of a British national in Rafah and are urgently looking into them," a spokesman for the Foreign Office said.

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The number of displaced Palestinians seeking shelter at UN facilities has topped 270,000.

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08/04/2014 11:48 AM EDT
Report: Israel Is Resuming Strikes

A spokesperson for the Israeli army reportedly told Agence France Presse that Israel is resuming its airstrikes in Gaza.

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In a statement released on Monday, Human Rights Watch accused Israeli troops of having opened fire and killing several fleeing civilians in the town of Khuza'a in southern Gaza. The international human rights group says the incidents took place between July 23 and July 25.

Human Rights Watch investigated several incidents between July 23 and 25 when, local residents said, Israeli forces opened fire on civilians trying to flee Khuza’a, but no Palestinian fighters were present at the time and no firefights were taking place.

On the morning of July 23, Israeli forces ordered a group of about 100 Palestinians in Khuza’a to leave a home in which they had gathered to take shelter, family members said. The first member to leave the house, Shahid al-Najjar, had his hands up but an Israeli soldier shot him in the jaw, seriously injuring him.

Israeli soldiers detained the men and boys over age 15 in an area close to the Gaza perimeter fence. Based on statements from witnesses and news reports, some were taken to Israel for questioning. Israeli forces released others that day, in small separate groups. As one group walked unarmed to Khan Younis, Israeli soldiers fired on them, killing one and wounding two others.

Read the briefing here.

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A gunmen opened fire near Jerusalem's Hebrew University, hitting a soldier in the stomach. It was the second incident in the Israeli capital this morning. Earlier, a man drove a construction vehicle into a bus.

Haaretz reports:

According to a preliminary investigation of the Mt. Scopus incident, a man dressed in black shot a 20-year-old soldier in the stomach, wounding him seriously, got on a motorcycle that was waiting for him and fled the scene. A security guard standing nearby shot at the suspect, but failed to hit him. Security forces are attempting to apprehend the attacker.

Read the full story here.

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