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Thursday, Aug 7, 2014

World

Israel, Hamas at odds over truce extension

Reuters | Thursday, Aug 7, 2014

A Palestinian sits amid the ruins of destroyed homes in the Shejaia neighbourhood, which witnesses said was heavily hit by Israeli shelling and air strikes during an Israeli offensive, in Gaza City on Aug 6, 2014.

GAZA CITY, Palestine - Israel and Hamas appeared at odds on Thursday over prolonging a 72-hour Gaza ceasefire, with the Jewish state indicating it would back an unconditional extension but Hamas denying any agreement.

Guns have stayed silent in the tiny Palestinian enclave since 8am on Tuesday, bringing relief to millions of people on both sides after the deaths of 1,886 Palestinians and 67 on the Israeli side.

Egyptian mediators have accelerated efforts to extend the truce after it expires at 0500 GMT (1pm Singapore time) on Friday, shuttling between Israeli and Palestinian delegations in Cairo.

"Israel has no problem extending the ceasefire unconditionally," an Israeli official told AFP on condition of anonymity late on Wednesday. There was no immediate reaction from Hamas.

A spokesman for the Israeli army said 27,000 reservists called up for the conflict had been sent home, leaving a force of 55,000 still on active duty, in another sign of growing hopes for long-term quiet.

But Hamas deputy leader Mussa Abu Marzuq, part of the Palestinian delegation holding talks in Cairo, denied overnight there was yet any agreement.

"There is no agreement to extend the ceasefire," he wrote on Twitter.

"Any news about the extension of the truce is unfounded," added Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri.

In the battered Gaza Strip, shops, banks and markets have reopened, and people crowded into the streets.

Emergency services cleared rubble and pulled more bodies from the rubble, raising the overall Palestinian death toll to 1,886, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

In the southern town of Rafah, one of the worst-hit areas where Israel sought to destroy a network of Hamas tunnels, local residents buried bodies stacked in morgues while the fighting raged.

Many residents are angered by the extent of damage to their homes.

Nearly half a million Palestinians were displaced by Israeli bombardment, and many are still sheltering in schools after their homes were flattened in the offensive.

"Look at my house, it is totally smashed. How can my children live here?" asked Mussa Abu al-Rus, whose house had been taken over by Israeli soldiers.

ISRAEL SAYS ACTIONS 'PROPORTIONATE'

In Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launched a vigorous defence of the conflict in the face of international criticism over heavy Palestinian civilian casualties.

"I think it was justified. I think it was proportionate and that doesn't in any way take away the deep regret we have for the loss of a single civilian casualty," Netanyahu said in his first public remarks since the ceasefire came into effect.

Israel had faced growing international, including US, criticism over the heavy number of Palestinian civilian casualties. Its loss of 64 soldiers is its most severe since the 2006 war against Hizbollah.

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