Gaza deadline looms as six die in ordnance blast
August 13 2014 08:51 PM
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This picture, made available by the Associated Press, shows Italian video journalist Simone Camilli, 35, in Beit Lahia in the Gaza Strip on Monday. Camilli was among at least five people killed in an explosion in northern Gaza on Wednesday. AFP

 AFP

Five Palestinians and an Italian journalist were killed in Gaza on 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.

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 sacrificed 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 long-term ceasefire would only be achieved if Israel lifted its eight-year blockade, the Islamist movement's Al Aqsa TV quoted reported.

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.

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.

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