Top diplomats call for extension to 12-hour Gaza truce as toll crosses 1000

US Secretary of State John Kerry and top diplomats from Europe and the Middle East gathered in Paris Saturday called for an extension to a temporary truce currently in force between Israel and Hamas.

Paris: US Secretary of State John Kerry and top diplomats from Europe and the Middle East gathered in Paris Saturday called for an extension to a temporary truce currently in force between Israel and Hamas.

Both sides have agreed to a 12-hour "humanitarian" ceasefire in Gaza that started at 0500 GMT Saturday, putting a brief stop to a conflict that has killed more than 1,000 Palestinians -- a large majority of them civilians.

The 19-day Israeli offensive on Hamas-ruled Gaza was launched in response to rockets fired by militants of the Islamist group into the Jewish state, and 37 Israeli soldiers have also died in the violence.

"We all call on parties to extend the humanitarian ceasefire currently in force, by 24 hours that could be renewed," France`s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters after the meeting, which lasted more than two hours.
"We all want to obtain a lasting ceasefire as quickly as possible that addresses both Israeli requirements in terms of security and Palestinian requirements in terms of socio-economic development," said Fabius, who went on to brief Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas on the phone.

Kerry and Fabius met with their counterparts from Britain, Germany, Italy, Qatar and Turkey, as well as a representative from the European Union.

"The massacres are unbearable, they cannot continue," a top French diplomatic source, who refused to be named, said.

"We hope that this morning will be the start of a positive cycle that will allow a lasting ceasefire in order to negotiate the conditions of a permanent truce to go towards peace."

Kerry, who has been leading international efforts to reach a ceasefire, has been in regular contact with the foreign ministers of Turkey and Qatar as both countries wield influence on Hamas.

Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal is based in Qatar, while Turkey`s Islamic-oriented prime minister has strongly criticised Israel`s assault on Gaza as well as Egypt`s role in trying to clinch a ceasefire.Kerry was in Cairo Friday where he met with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukri and UN chief Ban Ki-moon to try and get both sides to say yes to an initial, seven-day truce.

But while Israel and Hamas agreed to a temporary ceasefire on humanitarian grounds, they rejected any longer-lasting truce.
Hamas wants its Turkish and Qatari allies to be involved in any ceasefire negotiations.

But relations with Egypt are strained over Turkey and Qatar`s support for the banned Muslim Brotherhood movement.

Unlike his Islamist predecessor Mohamed Morsi whom he toppled and detained last year, current Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has sought to isolate the militant Palestinian movement in the neighbouring Gaza Strip.

Egypt`s foreign minister was pointedly absent from the Paris meeting, which France dismissed by saying that Egypt was still closely associated with the talks.Speaking in Cairo Friday after his plan was rejected, Kerry said Israel and Hamas "still have some terminology" to agree to on a ceasefire, but added they had a "fundamental framework" on a truce.

Still, the two sides remain at odds over the shape of a final deal.

Hamas says any truce must include a guaranteed end to Israel`s eight-year blockade of Gaza and also wants Egypt to open its Rafah border crossing with the coastal enclave, the only passage not controlled by Israel.

In the Jewish state, meanwhile, there are calls for any deal to include the demilitarisation of the Gaza Strip.

"It`s necessary to provide humanitarian aid. Turkey is ready to send humanitarian convoys, which is why it is important to open a crossing point," the French diplomatic source said.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said aid would be a top priority if Israel and Hamas agreed to extend the temporary truce.

"We also need to use this time to prepare negotiations for a lasting ceasefire," he said after the meeting.

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