Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters

Gaza conflict: Cease-fire extended by 24 hours

Negotiators work on new agreement as Israeli forces demolish family homes of suspects in murders of three Israeli teens

Egypt's state news agency reported on Monday that the Gaza cease-fire has been extended by 24 hours to facilitate the continuation of long-term peace negotiations between Israel and Hamas.

Earlier, Palestinians accused Israel of “stalling” on negotiations as the five-day cease-fire threatened to expire at midnight local time (5 p.m. EDT) without a new agreement.

Israel’s five-week offensive in the Gaza Strip has killed at least 1,900 Palestinians, most of them civilians. Nearly 70 Israeli soldiers and three civilians have died. The temporary truce that expires on Monday is the latest in a series of short cease-fires meant to allow Israeli and Palestinian negotiators a chance to arrange a long-term agreement.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the group’s “priority is to reach an agreement, but the occupiers must stop stalling,” Palestinian news website Maan News reported.

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“Israelis will not enjoy safety until our people do and siege is completely lifted. [Israelis in the south] will only return home when Hamas allows them to, not when [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu does,” Zuhri said.

Israel’s request for the disarmament and demilitarization of the Gaza Strip has been a major sticking point for various Palestinian factions, Israeli news website Haaretz reported.

Hamas’ main condition for a new cease-fire with Israel is the lifting of a seven-year blockade of the occupied territory, including the opening of Israeli and Egyptian borders and an extended fishing range for Gaza fisherman. Israel has said the siege is necessary to prevent Hamas from acquiring weapons, but rights group call the blockade collective punishment that unfairly targets the civilian population.

As talks aimed at reaching a sustainable truce continued, Israeli forces destroyed the West Bank homes of three men it accused of being behind the June kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers. These deaths were followed by the kidnapping and murder of Palestinian teenager Mohammad Abu Khdeir, who was burned alive in early July by Israelis who confessed to what they called a revenge attack.

The homes of suspects Amir Abu Eisha and Husam al-Qawasmi were set with explosives and demolished to rubble overnight on Sunday. The home of Marwan Qawasmi was destroyed after Israeli forces filled the structure with concrete.

The families of the three men were all ordered to evacuate the homes, prompting Israeli rights group Hamoked to petition the country’s high court to stop such demolitions and calling the action collective punishment, according to Maan.

But Israeli army spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said the demolitions send an important message.

“The demolition of terrorists’ homes conveys a clear message to terrorists and their accomplices that there is a personal price to pay when engaging in terror and carrying out attacks against Israelis,” Lerner said according to Maan.

The same night, a Palestinian home in East Jerusalem was demolished “on the pretext it was built without a permit,” Maan reported. Israel rarely gives permits to Palestinians wanting to build homes in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

Since the occupation began in 1967, Israel has destroyed 27,000 Palestinian homes and structures, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions said.

The disappearance of the three Israeli teenagers prompted an Israeli military crackdown on the West Bank, specifically targeting Hamas – which Israel accused of being behind the kidnappings. Hamas has denied any involvement, and the Israeli government later acknowledged that the men alleged to be behind the crime acted alone.

But the crackdown resulted in the arrests of hundreds of suspected Hamas members, the closure for days of the southern West Bank city of Hebron and the deaths of at least six Palestinians. After what Hamas called a series of provocations, rocket fire began from Gaza, and soon after Israel launched a massive aerial assault followed by a major ground invasion.

In addition to the civilian death toll after five weeks of Israeli assaults and the displacement of nearly half a million Gazans, the Palestinian Minister of Economy Mohammad Mustafa said Monday that reconstruction in the coastal enclave will cost billions, Maan reported.

More than 30,000 homes were damaged by Israeli air strikes and shelling, Mustafa said, adding that a full report of the estimated damages was due by the end of the week.

Gaza’s water distribution system saw almost $35 million in damages, with about 3 miles of sewage networks destroyed. The agricultural sector suffered massive damage that will lead to long-term economic consequences, Mustafa said, adding that it would cost about $6 billion to fix hospitals, schools, water facilities and factories damaged by the offensive.

Egypt and Norway said they plan to co-host a donor conference to help with Gaza's reconstruction, the Norwegian foreign ministry said on Monday, according to Haaretz.

As Israel's offensive against Gaza winds down, rights groups have reported Israeli interference in their investigations into actions taken during the war, Haaretz reported. It said Israeli authorities had refused Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch employees entry into Gaza. The groups had planned to carry out independent investigations into the fighting, and said Israel used various bureaucratic excuses to deny them entry, Haaretz said.

With wire services

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