The Palestinian decision-making body led by U.S.-backed President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday endorsed demands by Hamas for halting Gaza hostilities with Israel, a closing of ranks that may help Egyptian-mediated truce efforts.
With Israeli and U.S. encouragement, Egypt has tried to get both sides to hold fire and then negotiate terms for protracted calm in the Palestinian enclave where officials said 624 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in 15 days of fighting. Hamas, the Gaza Strip’s dominant Islamists, and other armed factions had baulked at Cairo’s offer, saying they wanted assurances of relief from an Israeli-Egyptian blockade and other concessions. The dispute was further complicated by distrust between Egypt under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Hamas.
In a move that could effectively turn Abbas into the main interlocutor for a Gaza truce, his umbrella Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) on Wednesday formally supported core conditions set by the Hamas-led fighters. “The Gaza demands of stopping the aggression and lifting the blockade in all its forms are the demands of the entire Palestinian people and they represent the goal that the Palestinian leadership has dedicated all its power to achieve,” senior PLO official Yasser Abed Rabbo said in Ramallah, the hub city in the Israeli-occupied West Bank where Abbas is based.
“We are confident Gaza will not be broken as long as our people are standing beside it to support it through all possible means until the invaders understand that our great people inside the homeland and outside will not leave Gaza alone.”
Signalling that Abbas, too, sought a staggered cessation of hostilities, the Palestinian leader’s Fatah faction on Tuesday proposed a truce followed by five days of negotiations on terms. There was no immediate response to the PLO statement from Hamas or Israel, which pressed the Gaza offensive it began on July 8 after a surge of cross-border rocket salvoes.
VIOLENCE AFFECTS FLIGHTS
Israel has lost 29 soldiers in the Gaza clashes, including a tank officer who the army said on Wednesday had been killed by a Palestinian sniper overnight. Two Israeli civilians have been killed by shelling by Palestinian fighters that has reached deep into the Jewish state, spreading panic despite the success of its Iron Dome rocket interceptor and civilian shelters.
Three Palestinians died in Israeli strikes on Wednesday, Gaza officials said. Rocket launches set off air-raid sirens in southern Israel, but there was no word of casualties.
There was also violence in the West Bank, where a Palestinian was shot dead by Israeli troops near Bethlehem. The army said soldiers fired a rubber bullet at him during a confrontation with dozens of Palestinians hurling rocks and Molotov cocktails. Egyptian sources, speaking on Tuesday as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited continued…