Palestinian factions appear divided as the clock winds down on the latest Gaza ceasefire.
Officials said that terror group Hamas is still opposed to a compromise Egyptian proposal that would ease the closure of the territory while other factions, including delegates representing president Mahmoud Abbas, are inclined to accept.
Hamas officials said they were holding out in the hope of getting more concessions in the Egyptian-mediated talks.
With a temporary truce set to expire late tomorrow, 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 injured since the war began on July 8, according to United Nations (UN) 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 following a weekend of consultations across the Middle East, the gaps remained wide.
The current five-day ceasefire is due to end on Monday at midnight local time.
A member of the Palestinian delegation told the Associated Press today that the gaps between the sides were still significant and that it was far from certain whether a deal could be reached before the ceasefire expires.
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 demilitarised, essentially forcing the terrorists to give up their large arsenal of rockets and other weapons. Hamas rejects this demand out of hand.
Ahead of the resumption of talks tonight, 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.
Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, directed equally tough words at Israel.
“The Israelis will only return to their homes when the resistance decides. We are not seeking an agreement because we are weak, but to fulfil our people’s demands,” he told a rally.
According to negotiators, the Egyptian proposal calls for compromises by both sides.
It seeks to ease the blockade by allowing more imports and exports for Gaza and increased movement of people in and out of the territory’s Israeli-controlled crossing.
But key demands, such as Hamas’ calls for Gaza’s air and seaports to be reopened, are to be left until later.
While Gaza would not be forced to disarm, Gaza’s border crossings would be controlled by forces loyal to Mr Abbas.
The western-backed Mr Abbas would also oversee international reconstruction efforts in Gaza to make sure that aid money and materials do not fall into the hands of Hamas.
The Egyptian compromise would give Mr Abbas his first foothold back in Gaza since his forces were driven out seven years ago.
In a show of unity, the Palestinian delegation in Cairo has included representatives of rival factions, including Mr Abbas’ Fatah movement and the smaller militant group Islamic Jihad.
One member of the delegation said that even if Hamas opposes the deal, Mr Abbas’ forces are prepared to oversee the crossings and reconstruction.