Two boys walk past destroyed homes in the northern Gaza strip a few miles away from the border with Israel on August 13, 2014
Two boys walk past destroyed homes in the northern Gaza strip a few miles away from the border with Israel on August 13, 2014 © Roberto Schmidt - AFP
Two boys walk past destroyed homes in the northern Gaza strip a few miles away from the border with Israel on August 13, 2014
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Mai Yaghi, AFP
Last updated: August 14, 2014

Gaza deadline looms as six die in ordnance blast

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Five Palestinians and an Italian journalist were killed in Gaza Wednesday when Israeli ordnance detonated as experts tried to disable it just hours before the end of a 72-hour truce.

The blast occurred in the northern town of Beit Lahiya as Egyptian mediators scrambled to persuade Israeli and Palestinian negotiators to extend a three-day ceasefire, which expires at midnight (2100 GMT).

Without agreement on an extension or a long-term truce, the two sides risk a resumption of the deadly fighting, which began on July 8.

The Associated Press confirmed that one of its journalists and a freelance Palestinian translator had been killed in the blast, identifying them as Simone Camilli, a 35-year-old cameraman from Italy, and Ali Shehda Abu Afash, 36.

Besides his work as a translator, Abu Afash also worked part-time as an administrative assistant with AFP's Gaza bureau. He leaves behind a wife and two girls, aged seven and two.

Camilli, who is survived by a wife and three-year-old daughter, had worked for The Associated Press since 2005.

Both men were killed as they covered the story of experts dismantling unexploded ordnance. One of AP's Palestinian photographers, Hatem Moussa, was also badly wounded in the explosion along with another four people, medics said.

The Gaza interior ministry said its top bomb disposal expert in the north had been killed, naming him as Taysir Lahum.

Camilli is the first foreign journalist die in the violence in Gaza, which has killed more than 1,950 Palestinians and 67 on the Israeli side.

- Deadline looms -

As the night fell on three days of calm in and around Gaza and with no concrete word on the talks in Cairo, both sides were readying for a possible resumption of hostilities as the midnight deadline drew closer.

"We have already sacrified 64 men and it is possible we may have to sacrifice more," Israel's Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Benny Gantz said at a military ceremony on Wednesday evening, his remarks broadcast on army radio.

"It is possible that the operation is not ended and is not completed," he said.

And on the ground in Gaza, many were concerned that violence would resume.

"We're all worried, it's natural," said Hussein Abu Haseera, sitting outside his air conditioning shop in Gaza City's Rimal neighbourhood.

"We want this to be finished, for the blockade to be lifted. No one likes dying do they?"

In Cairo, the truce talks at the General Intelligence headquarters were expected to run until late as Egyptian mediators raced to bridge the gaps between the two sides.

By the time the deadline passes, the two sides must have agreed on a permanent ceasefire, accepted an extension of the truce or risk a resumption of more than a month of bloody fighting.

A member of the Palestinian delegation told AFP there would be an official announcement by their negotiating team at 9:30pm (1830 GMT).

Ahead of the announcement, Ismail Haniya, the top Hamas official in Gaza insisted that a longterm ceasefire would only be achieved if Israel lifted its eight-year blockade, the Islamist movement's Al Aqsa TV quoted reported.

- Unblocking the blockade -

Mediators have proposed that talks on the Palestinians' demands for a seaport and an airport in Gaza be delayed until a month after a permanent ceasefire takes effect, according to an Egyptian proposal contained in documents seen by AFP.

Negotiations about handing over the remains of two dead Israeli soldiers in exchange for the release of prisoners in Israeli jails would also be postponed, according to the document.

A buffer zone along Gaza's border with Israel would be gradually reduced and guarded by Palestinian Authority president Mahmud Abbas's security teams.

Negotiations "are in a very sensitive stage and we hope to reach an agreement" before midnight (2100 GMT), said Palestinian delegation head Azzam al-Ahmed.

Hamas is understood to be demanding clear commitments to opening the ports in Gaza and the Palestinians are also demanding an end to the eight-year blockade of Gaza.

Israel is understood to have refused.

Israel has said it will facilitate Gaza's reconstruction only if the enclave is fully disarmed, a demand rejected by the Palestinians.

The document was vague on the blockade, saying the crossings would be opened according to agreements reached between the Palestinian Authority and Israel.

Both sides said they were ready to resume hostilities if the talks failed again.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who commands strong support within the Jewish state for ordering the Gaza offensive, upped tensions by lashing out at the UN Human Rights Council for saying it would investigate Israel for alleged war crimes.

"UNHRC gives legitimacy to murderous terror organisations like Hamas and Daash (Islamic State)," he said, accusing the rights body of overlooking "massacres" committed elsewhere in the Middle East.

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