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Egypt presents proposal to end war in Gaza Strip

BY MOHAMMED DARAGHMEH Associated Press

CAIRO - Egypt presented a proposed cease-fire to Israel and Hamas aimed at ending the monthlong war, Palestinian officials said early Wednesday after negotiators huddled for a second day of Egyptian-mediated talks meant to resolve the crisis and bring relief to the embattled Gaza Strip.

Palestinian officials told The Associated Press early today that Egypt's proposal calls for easing parts of the Israeli blockade of Gaza, bringing some relief to the territory. But it leaves the key areas of disagreement, including the Islamic militant group Hamas' demand for a full lifting of the blockade and Israeli calls for Hamas to disarm, to later negotiations.

If the sides accept the proposal it would have a significant impact on Palestinians in Gaza as it would improve the movement of individuals and merchandise to the West Bank, the officials said. Gaza exports and other businesses have been hit hard by restrictions imposed on the territory by Israel and Egypt after Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007.

One of the Palestinian officials who spoke to AP said that according to the Egyptian proposal the blockade would be gradually eased.

He said it would stipulate that Israel would end airstrikes on militants, and a 547-yard buffer zone next to the Gaza and Israel frontier would be reduced over time, he said.

The Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams retired after 10 hours of discussions and will resume the talks later Wednesday, about 12 hours before the current cease-fire is set to expire at midnight, the officials said.

It was not immediately clear if either side would accept the deal.

The Palestinian officials spoke to AP on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss the negotiations with the media.

The negotiations took place after a three-day truce brokered by Egypt took effect Monday. A similar truce collapsed last Friday after Gaza militants quickly resumed rocket fire with its expiration.

The monthlong Gaza war has killed more than 1,900 Palestinians, the majority of them civilians, Palestinian and U.N. officials say. In Israel, 67 people have been killed, all but three of them soldiers.

Hamas is demanding an end to an Israel-Egyptian blockade that has ravaged Gaza's economy. Israel says the blockade is needed to keep Hamas, which fired thousands of rockets into Israel during the war, from smuggling weapons. Israel is seeking guarantees that it disarm. With the truce set to expire, Egypt pressed the sides hard to reach a deal.

"The talks are difficult but serious," Moussa Abu Marzouk, head of the Hamas delegation, wrote on his Facebook page. "The delegation needs to achieve the hopes of the people."

Hamas, shunned by the international community as a terrorist organization, seized control of Gaza from internationally backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in 2007.

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