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Clock ticks on final day of truce as talks continue

JERUSALEM—Israeli and Palestinian negotiators will enter a final day of ceasefire talks in Cairo on Wednesday, as the clock ticks towards a 2100 GMT deadline ending a 72-hour truce.

By that time, the negotiators must have either agreed on a permanent truce, accepted an extension or risk a resumption of more than a month of bloody fighting.

“There has been progress, but not enough to sign an agreement, the negotiations will resume tomorrow (Wednesday)”, a member of the Palestinian delegation told AFP late on Tuesday, without giving further details.

As on previous days, the Israeli team returned home after talks, for likely consultations with their government.

As Gaza’s residents ventured out into the quiet to try to piece together their battered lives, negotiators held a second round of indirect talks Tuesday aimed at finding a durable end to the five-week confrontation.

But officials said there was still a way to go to agree an end to the conflict, which erupted on July 8 when Israel launched military operations to halt cross-border rocket fire from Gaza.

“The negotiations are difficult and gruelling,” a Palestinian official had said of Monday’s opening talks, which lasted almost 10 hours and which were described as “serious”.

And early on Tuesday, an Israeli official had played down the chances of success.

“The gaps are still very wide. There has not been progress in the negotiations,” he told AFP.

The teams gather in separate rooms at the headquarters of the Egyptian General Intelligence and never see each other, with mediators shuttling between them with proposals and counterproposals, a source said.

Hamas wants Israel to lift the blockade it imposed on Gaza in 2006 before it will stop rocket attacks. Israel has said it will only facilitate Gaza’s reconstruction if the enclave is fully disarmed.

In Istanbul, a coalition of pro-Palestinian activists said they would send a flotilla of blockade-busting ships to Gaza by the end of 2014, four years after a similar attempt ended in bloodshed when Israel staged a botched raid in an attempt to stop it.

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