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Gaza truce holds for a second day

Israel and Hamas began indirect talks on a new border deal for the blockaded Gaza Strip as a cease-fire ending their month-long war entered its second day Wednesday.

Israel has said it wants the Islamic militant Hamas to disarm, or at least ensure it cannot re-arm, before considering the group's demand that the territory's borders be opened. Israel and Egypt imposed a closure after the Hamas takeover of Gaza in 2007.

The indirect talks are being held in Cairo, with Egyptian mediators shuttling between the delegations.

Disarming Hamas tops the list of Israeli demands presented in a meeting with Egyptian mediators late Tuesday, said an Egyptian security official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

The Israeli delegation has since left for Israel but was to return to Cairo later Wednesday, the official added.

The Palestinian delegation is composed of negotiators from all major factions, including Hamas and was to meet with Egyptian officials later Wednesday to be briefed on Israel's demands, said Bassam Salhi, a Palestinian delegate,.

"The most important thing to us is removing the blockade and start reconstructing Gaza," he said. "There can be no deal without that."

He said the cease-fire, set to expire at 8 a.m. Friday (0500 GMT), would likely be extended if more time for talks is needed.

Talks are still in the early stages, but the outlines of a possible solution have emerged, including internationally funded reconstruction of Gaza overseen by a Palestinian unity government led by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The Western-backed Abbas lost control of Gaza in the Hamas takeover of 2007.

Regarding easing the blockade, a statement by Egyptian intelligence indicated it would not agree to major changes at the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza, and the onus of lifting the border closure would fall on Israel.

The cease-fire is the longest lull in a war that has killed nearly 1,900 Palestinians — 75 per cent of them civilians according to the United Nations. Israel has lost 67 people, including three civilians.

The war broke out on July 8, when the Israeli military began bombarding targets in Gaza in an attempt to stop Hamas from launching rockets at Israel and then nine days later it sent in ground troops to destroy underground tunnels it said were built to attack Israel.

The Canadian Press

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