Cairo: Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in Egypt-mediated Gaza truce talks hardened their positions on Monday ahead of the expiration of a five-day ceasefire, though both sides appeared reluctant to return to the deadly all-out fighting that has destroyed large parts of the densely-populated coastal strip.
The month-long Israel-Hamas war has killed more than 1,900 Palestinians, the majority of them civilians, according to Palestinian and UN officials. Israel has lost 67 people, all but three of them soldiers.
Since last week, indirect talks have been taking place in Cairo through Egyptian mediators in an effort to broker a substantive end to the war and draw up a roadmap for Gaza.
Palestinian and Israeli delegations yesterday resumed the talks following weekend consultations across the Middle East but gaps between the two sides remain wide, with each staking out maximalist positions.
The Gaza blockade, imposed by Israel and Egypt since the Hamas militants took control of the strip in 2007, remains the main stumbling block. It has greatly limited the movement of Palestinians in and out of the territory of 1.8 million people, restricted the flow of goods into Gaza and blocked virtually all exports.
A Palestinian negotiator, Qais Abdul Karim, told The Associated Press that yesterday Israel pressed for guarantees that Hamas and other militant factions in Gaza would be disarmed, while the Palestinians demanded an end to the blockade without preconditions.
The current five-day cease-fire ends at midnight (2100 GMT) Monday but Ziad Nakhleh, head of the Islamic Jihad faction within the Palestinian delegation in Cairo, said he expects it to be extended if a deal is not reached by then. "The war is behind us now," he told the AP. "We are not returning to war."