Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are poised to resume indirect talks with Egyptian mediators today on reaching a more permanent ceasefire before a current truce expires at midnight tomorrow.
The Egyptian government persuaded both sides late Wednesday to adhere to a new five-day ceasefire, extending an earlier three-day agreement in order to allow more time to thrash out a longer-term truce.
It got off to a rocky start with Palestinian rocket attacks and retaliatory Israeli air strikes, but Saturday marked a sixth day of quiet following more than a month of fighting that has killed at least 1,980 Palestinians and 67 on the Israeli side.
Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams are expected back in Cairo for fresh talks, which the Palestinians said would begin today after consulting their political leaders over the weekend.
The European Union welcomed the ceasefire in Gaza and said it was ready to expand a police mission in Rafah, on the border with Egypt, and train Palestinian Authority customs personnel and police for redeployment in Gaza.
The EU said a durable ceasefire must be accompanied by lifting closures on Gaza and called on "all terrorist groups" in the territory to disarm.
The Israeli foreign ministry welcomed the call for disarmament -- Israel's main demand at Cairo truce talks.
Israel, under pressure from citizens who have endured more than 2,790 rocket attacks since July 8, refuses to countenance any major reconstruction effort without full demilitarisation.
Azzam al-Ahmad, who heads the Palestinian delegation at the Cairo talks, told AFP yesterday that he was quietly optimistic that an agreement for a longer-term truce could be reached.
"We have high hopes of reaching an agreement very soon, before the end of the truce, and perhaps even, very quickly, for a permanent ceasefire," he said.
But Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri struck a hardline note, insisting that there can be no return to peace without a lifting of Israel's eight-year blockade of the beleaguered coastal enclave.
Talks on Sunday are expected to resume on the basis of an Egyptian proposal, seen by AFP, which calls for a lasting ceasefire beyond Monday midnight, and new talks on the thorniest issues, including demands for a seaport and airport in Gaza, to begin in a month's time.