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July 28, 2017

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Gaza cease-fire holds steady while Egypt engages in shuttle diplomacy

GAZA CITY--Life in the battered Gaza Strip began returning to normal Wednesday as a cease-fire held for a second day and Egyptian mediators engaged in shuttle diplomacy on extending the truce.

Shops, banks and markets reopened around the devastated enclave where residents seemed more confident that the 72-hour ceasefire, which began Tuesday, would hold after a month of fighting killed 1,875 Palestinians and 67 on the Israeli side.

Many small businesses reopened for the first time in days and dozens of fishermen also headed back out to sea, an AFP correspondent said.

People started repairing damaged property, as the emergency services cleared rubble and searched for bodies in the worst hit areas, including in the Tuffah, Beit Hanun and Shejaiya neighborhoods.

Nearly half a million Palestinians out of Gaza's 1.8 million people were displaced by Israeli bombardment, and many are still sheltering in schools after their homes were flattened in the offensive.

Palestinian deputy economy minister Taysir Amro has estimated the total damage from the 29-day war at up to US$6 billion.

In Cairo, efforts accelerated to try to secure a lasting peace after mediators met an Israeli delegation during the night and were to relay their demands to a Palestinian team.

Egyptian officials, with likely input from the United States, are likely to face tough talks aimed at securing a permanent ceasefire as Israel and the Palestinians press conflicting demands.

Palestinian negotiators said they would respond to Israel's terms through Egyptian intelligence officials, although top Hamas figures have already signaled they will not give way.

Ismail Haniya, former prime minister of Gaza and the second-in-command of Hamas's political bureau, was defiant ahead of the talks.

"Our delegation to Cairo has a united people behind it, a valiant resistance and huge sacrifices, and it will not yield on any of our demands," he said in a statement.

Ezzat al-Rishq, a senior Hamas official, also appeared to reject Israel's demand that Gaza be disarmed.

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