Time running out in Gaza cease-fire

By John Vause and Jethro Mullen, CNN

updated 7:44 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • Palestinian death toll passes 2,000
  • The current cease-fire expires after midnight (5 p.m. ET)
  • Indirect talks on a more lasting deal have been taking place in Cairo
  • Israeli negotiators have been told to be steadfast on security, says Netanyahu

Jerusalem (CNN) — The pause in fighting in and around Gaza is hanging in the balance.

The cease-fire between Israel and Hamas that’s kept things quiet for most of the past week is due to expire at midnight local time Monday (5 p.m. ET). What happens after that depends on the outcome of indirect talks between Israeli and Palestinian officials in Cairo.

Nabil Shaath, a senior official from the Palestine Liberation Organization, gave little reason for hope.

“It’s not going very well, and it produces a lot of pessimism,” he said.

Communicating through Egyptian intermediaries, the two sides are trying to resolve in days issues that have smoldered for decades.

Death toll passes 2,000

The total number of Palestinians killed since the start of the offensive has reached 2,016, Ashraf el-Qedra, spokesman for the Ministry of Health in Gaza, said Monday.

The latest deaths include people who were found under rubble and those who died from injuries they received during the previous fighting.

It’s unclear how many of the dead were militants. The United Nations has estimated that about 70% were civilians, but Israel has estimated a higher number of militants.

Israel blames Hamas for civilian deaths, saying militants fire rockets from civilian areas and encourage people to stay despite Israeli warnings of impending attacks.

The Israeli military says 64 of its soldiers have been killed, as well as three civilians in Israel.

Dispute over disarmament

Israel is calling for Gaza to be demilitarized, demanding that Hamas, the militant group in charge of the territory, lay down its arms.

Fishermen struggle under restrictions

Gaza residents returning home

Steinitz: Gaza demilitarization main objective

A wedding in a war zone

“From the first day, the Israeli delegation to Cairo has worked under very clear instructions, to remain steadfast on Israel’s security needs,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday.

Israeli forces remain positioned around Gaza. In recent weeks, they carried out aerial and ground assaults against Hamas to try to stop militant rocket fire and destroy a network of tunnels that extended under the border into Israel.

But even during the cease-fire, Hamas has boasted that its rocket-making factories are still operating, replenishing its arsenal.

In the view of Palestinian officials, disarmament is a non-starter.

“That is not possible,” Shaath said. “Because Israel will not demilitarize either, will not even commit itself that it will never use military arms against Gaza.”

Gaza blockade

Palestinians say they want an end to Israel’s blockade of Gaza, which they say is suffocating the economy of the small, impoverished strip of land and the lives of its inhabitants.

Among their demands are the rebuilding and reopening of Gaza’s airport and the establishment of a seaport.

But Israeli authorities — who retain control of Gaza’s airspace, Mediterranean waters and their shared border — say that releasing their grip on what goes into and out of the territory is too risky as things stand.

“Building a seaport or an airport in Gaza without demilitarization is like getting a duty-free for rockets and missiles,” Israeli Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz said.

Israel and Hamas, which have fought three major conflicts in the past six years, both seem to be dug in, refusing to give ground on their key demands.

Without a deal out of the negotiations in Cairo, the stage seems set for further confrontation.

CNN’s John Vause reported from Jerusalem, and Jethro Mullen reported and wrote from Hong Kong.

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