CAIRO (Reuters) - Palestinian negotiators will leave Cairo on Sunday unless Israel agrees to return to Egyptian-mediated negotiations to end the war in Gaza, senior delegation member Moussa Abu Marzouk said.
“Within the next 24 hours, the delegation’s presence in Egypt will be determined,” Abu Marzouk, the deputy chairman of Hamas’ political bureau, told Reuters in an interview late on Saturday at the delegation’s hotel near the Cairo airport.
He said the decision would be made after a meeting on Sunday with Egyptian mediators, who have met separately with each party about at least three times this week.
Delegation head Azzam Ahmed told Al Arabiya television the Palestinian factions in Cairo for the negotiations would leave “if it is confirmed to us that (Israel) will not return except with conditions.”
Israel has said it will not take part in truce talks while violence is ongoing. Its delegation has not returned to Cairo since it left early Friday morning, shortly before a 72-hour cease-fire expired.
The Palestinians refused to extend the cease-fire, saying Israel was stalling and had refused to accept demands including an end to the blockade of Gaza and the opening of a seaport.
Israel launched more than 30 air attacks in Gaza on Saturday, killing nine Palestinians, and militants fired rockets at Israel as the conflict entered a second month.
The diplomatic deadlock suggests that Israel’s seven-year blockade of Gaza and intermittent offensives may have had the opposite of their intended effect - the elimination of armed resistance and the marginalization of Hamas, which it denounces as a terrorist group.
“The Palestinian people don’t have anything to lose,” said Abu Marzouk in the hotel’s lobby flanked by guards.
“The Palestinian people do not have many choices: either be killed under the blockade or be killed by mortar and (war) planes,” he said, suggesting that the blockade has killed more Palestinians than the wars.
Gaza officials say the current conflict has killed 1,890 Palestinians, most of them civilians. Israel says 64 of its soldiers and three civilians have died in the fighting, which started on July 8.
Maher al-Taher from the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which does not usually toe the Hamas line, echoed Abu Marzouk’s comments.
He told Reuters earlier in the day that Israel’s plan to push the Palestinians to rebel against Hamas had backfired.
“Instead the people have gathered around the resistance factions,” he said.
“Palestinians have become convinced that Israel is targeting everyone,” he said. “We believe Israel is digging its own grave and will pay the price.”
Additional reporting by Lin Noueihed; Editing by Steve Orlofsky