Palestinian divisions emerge in Gaza truce talks


CAIRO — The Palestinians appeared divided Sunday as the clock was winding down on the latest Gaza cease-fire, with officials saying Hamas was still opposed to a compromise Egyptian proposal that would ease the closure of the territory, while other factions, including delegates representing President Mahmoud Abbas, were inclined to accept.

Hamas officials said they were holding out in hopes of getting more concessions in the Egyptian-mediated talks. With a temporary truce set to expire late Monday, a range of outcomes remained possible, including a return to fighting that has brought great devastation to Gaza, an unofficial understanding that falls short of a formal negotiated deal or yet another extension in negotiations.

The negotiations are aimed at ending the latest war between Israel and Hamas-led militants in Gaza. Nearly 2,000 Palestinians have been killed — mostly civilians — and more than 10,000 people have been wounded since the war began July 8, according to United Nations figures. In Israel, 67 people have been killed, all but three of them soldiers.

The indirect talks have been going on, through Egyptian mediators, since early last week. As Palestinian and Israeli negotiators returned to Cairo on Sunday following a weekend of consultations across the Middle East, the gaps remained wide.

The current five-day cease-fire is due to end Monday night at midnight.

A member of the Palestinian delegation told The Associated Press on Sunday that the gaps between the sides were still significant and that it was far from certain whether a deal could be reached before the cease-fire expires.

“We are less optimistic than we were earlier,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the talks with the media.

Hamas is demanding an end to an Israeli-Egyptian blockade on Gaza tightened when it seized power in 2007. The blockade, which Israel says is needed to prevent arms smuggling, has ground Gaza’s economy to a standstill by restricting imports, limiting the movement of people in and out of the territory and blocking virtually all exports.

Israel, meanwhile, wants Gaza to be demilitarized, essentially forcing Hamas to give up its large arsenal of rockets and other weapons. Hamas rejects this demand out of hand.

Ahead of the resumption of talks late Sunday, both sides were sticking to their positions.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his Cabinet that Hamas had suffered a huge setback in the four-week war, which would be reflected in the Cairo talks.

“If Hamas thinks its defeat on the battlefield will be papered over by a victory at the negotiating table it is mistaken,” he said.