Diplomacy & defense

British PM tells Netanyahu both Israel and Hamas must take 'difficult steps' to reach lasting peace

A fragile ceasefire extension between Hamas and Israel entered its second day on Friday as the two sides in the Gaza conflict ponder Egyptian-mediated efforts to secure a lasting peace.

Egyptian mediators brokered the five-day extension to an existing truce to allow for further negotiations on a long-term ceasefire to fighting that has killed 1,962 Palestinians and 67 people on the Israeli side since July 8.

The calm held throughout Thursday, after a flurry of Hamas rocket attacks and Israeli air strikes the previous night, even if great uncertainty persists on both sides about the future.

As the ceasefire continued, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that Israel secured supplies of ammunition from the Pentagon last month without the approval of the White House or the State Department.

President Barack Obama's administration, caught off guard as it tried to restrain Israel's campaign in Gaza, has since tightened controls on arms shipments to Israel, the newspaper said, quoting US and Israeli officials.

The Egyptian foreign ministry said both sides had agreed to extend the ceasefire for five days to allow more time for thorny negotiations.

Palestinian chief negotiator Azzam al-Ahmed said the delegations had reached "agreement on many points" concerning the lifting of Israel's eight-year blockade on Gaza but needed more time to settle a number of remaining disputes.

Latest developments:

23:12 GMT: British Prime Minister David Cameron spoke by phone with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Thursday evening, and said both Israel and Hamas would need to take “difficult steps” to reach a long-lasting ceasefire in Gaza.

“The Prime Minister reiterated his support for Israel’s right to defend itself and said he hoped that discussions in Egypt would result in a permanent ceasefire,” said a spokesperson on behalf of Cameron.

20:00 GMT: Around 10,000 Israelis poured into downtown Tel Aviv late Thursday, calling on the government and the army to end Palestinian rocket attacks from Gaza once and for all.

Organizers said the rally united people across Israel's often bitter divides of left and right-wing, as well as religious and secular Jewish communities.

Alon Davidi, mayor of the southern town of Sderot, told the rally there must be a solution - be it political or military - to what he called 14 years of rocket attacks.

Alon Basson/Defense Ministry

17:36 GMT: Deputy chief of Islamic Jihad, Ziad Nahalla said Thursday a permanent deal with Israel is near, adding the agreement will include a guarantee to lift the blockade over Gaza. An official in Hamas' foreign leadership said that there are initial indications that in the next five days a breakthrough in the talks will happen that would lead to an agreed deal.

16:50 GMT: Israel's security cabinet ends meeting.

16:47 GMT: The conflict in Gaza has caused serious damage to crops, herds and fishing as well as greenhouses and irrigation systems, bringing food production to a halt and sending prices sharply higher, the United Nations food body said on Thursday.

The Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said in a statement that virtually the entire local population of about 1.8 million was dependent on food aid and significant long term help would be needed for local farms to recover. Ciro Fiorillo, head of FAO's office in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, said specialists had been able to make a series of field visits to the coastal Palestinian enclave to prepare a detailed assessment of the damage during the latest ceasefire.

15:30 GMT: Leading member of Palestinian faction Hamas on Thursday blamed Israel for the failure to reach a comprehensive ceasefire agreement between the two sides."We could have signed a ceasefire deal on Tuesday if it hadn't been for Israel's manipulation of language," said Khalil al-Haya, leading Hamas figure and member of the Palestinian delegation indirectly negotiating a ceasefire with Israel in Cairo.

"This was why we accepted a temporary calming [as opposed to a formal ceasefire per se]-to offer a chance for consultations and ratchet up pressure on the enemy," al-Haya said at a press conference held at Gaza City's Al-Shefaa Hospital. Al-Haya described the Cairo talks as both "tough" and "daunting," adding: "The Israelis are well-versed in procrastination."

14:58 GMT: Israel's security cabinet convened to discuss a ceasefire deal with Hamas.

12:24 GMT: Israel's Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon addressed Israeli-US relations, saying how much Israel appreciates its close ties with the US. "We greatly appreciate the relationship with the US. Only yesterday I spoke with my friend the secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. We discussed the latest developments in the region. The relations between the states are based on mutual interests, and on mutual values...These relations are even more important in order to deal with the challenges ahead."

11:53 GMT: Israeli positions in the Cairo talks "were not minimally satisfactory," a senior member of Hamas political bureau said. He said he does not rule out renewed fighting that will "force Israel to answer Palestinian demands." Member of Hamas delegation to Cairo, on the other hand, said he hopes that the Egyptian mediators will be able to bring upon a lasting truce.

11:50 GMT: Finance Minister Yair Lapid criticized the deterioration in Israeli-US relations, calling it a "worrying trend and we cannot allow it to continue. Our relations with the United States are a strategic asset that must be maintained... sometimes we just need to say thank you," Lapid said in a statement.

07:36 GMT: Differing versions to rocket incident reported earlier: Israeli army spokesperson claims sirens were result of false alarm, despite the police reporting a rocket exploding in open territory.

07:08 GMT: A rocket fired from the Gaza strip lands in an open are in southern Israel causing no injuries or damage. No group has yet taken responsibility for the fire. Israel has vowed to respond forcefully to any acts of aggression.

06:43 GMT: Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah weighs in on the Gaza conflict. In an interview to Lebanese paper Al-Akbar, Nasrallah said that Israel "froze" in Gaza and failed to set clear objectives.

Nasrallah added that he thinks the Gaza operation would postpone future Israeli wars against Lebanon.

06:30 GMT: Moussa Abu Marzouk a Hamas member of the Palestinian delegation to truce talks in Cairo says no progress has been made towards a permanent ceasefire, despite tha fact that a new five-day temporary one has been put in place.

“You can’t say we’ve agreed on anything,” Marzouk was quoted in Al-Mayadeen . “The disagreements are over the terminology Israel uses in every sentence in every clause of the agreement. What Israel gives with its right hand, it takes with its left hand.”

04:50 GMT: The Wall Street Journal reports on tensions within Washington and between Washington and Jerusalem over US arms transfers to Israel during Operation Protective Edge. Senior officials told the paper that the Obama administration had requested that the Pentagon pt on hold a shipment of Hellfire Missiles Israel had requested and "consult with policy makers at the White House and the State Department before approving any additional requests."

The Report also provides a very different description of yesterday's phone call between Obama and Netanyahu, which officials described as "particularly combative."

04:30 GMT: Reports emerge that Israeli ministers, including members of the inner Security-Cabinet claim Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has yet to update them on key developments in Gaza, including the extension of the ceasefire for five more days.

Cabinet ministers told Ynet late Wednesday night that Prime Minister Netanyahu had "disappeared" and hadn't updated any of them on the current situation.

"We are being updated from Hamas," a source from the Cabinet told the website, "its embarrassing," added a senior intelligence official.


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