New Gaza truce holding after shaky start

Israel and Gaza militants were holding their fire Thursday morning after a new truce got off to a shaky start, with night-time Palestinian rocket fire followed by Israeli air strikes.

The Israeli army said that there had been no fighting for several hours, since Israeli air raids into Gaza finished around 3.00 am (0000 GMT).

Palestinians had fired two rockets into southern Israel two hours earlier, after a five-day ceasefire extension was to have taken effect.

An army spokeswoman said that aircraft hit rocket-launching sites, weapons caches and "centres of terrorist activity" but could not give a precise number.

An official at the Palestinian interior ministry reported four air strikes over open ground about 30 minutes after an existing 72-hour truce was extended at midnight for five days.

More than 1,950 Palestinians and 67 people on the Israeli side have been killed since July 8, when Israel launched an offensive to destroy Hamas rockets and attack tunnels burrowing under the Jewish state.

After days of shuttle diplomacy, the agreement clinched by Egypt ushered in what is potentially the longest period of calm in the five-week conflict and allow more time for talks on the thorniest issues that separate the two sides, the Palestinians said.

An earlier truce collapsed in a firestorm of violence on August 7.

Palestinian negotiator Azzam al-Ahmed said in Cairo, that more time was needed to discuss "some" remaining disputes with Israel over a long-term truce.

- 5 Palestinians, journalist killed -

On Wednesday, five Palestinians and an Italian journalist were killed in the northern town of Beit Lahiya in a blast as a Palestinian bomb disposal squad was trying to disarm an unexploded Israeli missile.

The Associated Press confirmed that one of its cameramen and a freelance Palestinian translator were killed, identifying them as Simone Camilli, 35, from Italy, and Ali Shehda Abu Afash, 36.

Besides his work as a translator, Abu Afash also worked part-time as an administrative assistant in AFP's Gaza bureau.

The Gaza interior ministry said its top bomb disposal expert in the north had been killed, naming him as Taysir Lahum.

There had been fears on both sides that hostilities could resume.

Dozens of tanks and armoured personnel carriers approached the border area with Gaza on Wednesday evening.

"We have already sacrificed 64 men and it is possible we may have to sacrifice more," Israel's chief of staff Lieutenant General Benny Gantz said at a military ceremony, his remarks broadcast on army radio.

- Unblocking the blockade -

In Cairo, the chief Palestinian negotiator said there was an agreement "on many points" as concerns the key Palestinian demand to end an eight-year Israeli blockade of Gaza.

The negotiators needed more time to settle "some" remaining disputes, he told reporters.

The joint Palestinian delegation, which includes Hamas and the Western-backed Palestinian Authority, will leave Cairo on Thursday to consult with their leaderships, he said.

Mediators proposed that talks on a seaport and airport in Gaza be delayed until a month after a permanent ceasefire takes effect, according to an Egyptian proposal contained in documents seen by AFP.

Negotiations about handing over the remains of two dead Israeli soldiers in exchange for the release of prisoners in Israeli jails would also be postponed, according to the document.

A buffer zone along Gaza's border with Israel would be gradually reduced and guarded by Palestinian Authority president Mahmud Abbas's security teams.

Israel has said it will facilitate Gaza's reconstruction only if the enclave is fully disarmed, a demand rejected by the Palestinians.

Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon meanwhile briefed US counterpart Chuck Hagel on the ceasefire.

Hagel reiterated his support for Egypt's mediation efforts and underscored the importance of achieving a sustainable outcome that ensures Israel's security and addresses Gaza's humanitarian crisis, said Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lashed out at the UN Human Rights Council over a planned probe over alleged Israeli war crimes, charging that it granted "legitimacy to murderous terror organisations like Hamas" by overlooking "massacres" committed elsewhere in the Middle East.