Top diplomats in Paris call for extension to 12-hour Gaza truce

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Paris (AFP) - US Secretary of State John Kerry and top diplomats from Europe and the Middle East meeting in Paris Saturday called for an extension to a temporary truce currently in force between Israel and Hamas.

Both sides have agreed to a 12-hour "humanitarian" ceasefire in Gaza that started at 0500 GMT Saturday, putting a brief stop to a conflict that has killed more than 1,000 Palestinians -- a large majority of them civilians.

The 19-day Israeli offensive on Hamas-ruled Gaza was launched in response to rockets fired by militants of the Islamist group into the Jewish state, and 37 Israeli soldiers have also died in the violence.

"We all call on parties to extend the humanitarian ceasefire currently in force, by 24 hours that could be renewed," France's Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters after the meeting.

"We all want to obtain a lasting ceasefire as quickly as possible that addresses both Israeli requirements in terms of security and Palestinian requirements in terms of socio-economic development," said Fabius, who went on to brief Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas on the phone.

Kerry and Fabius met with their counterparts from Britain, Germany, Italy, Qatar and Turkey, as well as a representative from the European Union.

"The massacres are unbearable, they cannot continue," said a top French diplomat who refused to be named.

"We hope that this morning will be the start of a positive cycle that will allow a lasting ceasefire in order to negotiate the conditions of a permanent truce to go towards peace."

- 'Tunnels must be dealt with' -

Kerry, who has been leading international efforts to reach a ceasefire, has been in regular contact with the foreign ministers of Turkey and Qatar as both countries wield influence on Hamas.

Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal is based in Qatar, while Turkey's Islamic-oriented prime minister has strongly criticised Israel's assault on Gaza as well as Egypt's role in trying to clinch a ceasefire.

But both Israel and Hamas remain at odds over the shape of a final deal.

Hamas says any truce must include a guaranteed end to Israel's eight-year blockade of Gaza and also wants Egypt to open its Rafah border crossing with the coastal enclave, the only passage not controlled by Israel.

The Jewish state, meanwhile, is adamant that it wants to destroy an apparently sophisticated network of tunnels through which Hamas militants can infiltrate from Gaza to wage attacks.

"The tunnels have to be dealt with, we understand that – we're working at that," Kerry said Saturday.

"By the same token, the Palestinians can't have a ceasefire in which they think the status quo is going to stay," he said, calling for a deal in which Palestinians "live with dignity" with freedom of movement and free from violence.

Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid al-Attiyah added that it was critical to find ways to end the Israeli blockade on Gaza.

"They deserve to have their own port –- a seaport –- so they can trade in and out, even if it is under international supervision," he said.

"But I think the time now comes that we have to have a long-term solution for the people of Gaza who have been suffering for a long time," Attiyah said.

- Egypt absent -

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said aid would be a top priority if Israel and Hamas agreed to extend the temporary truce.

"We also need to use this time to prepare negotiations for a lasting ceasefire," he said after the meeting.

Hamas insists that its Turkish and Qatari allies be involved in any ceasefire negotiations.

But relations with Egypt -- which has made a truce proposal and where Kerry tried to reach a deal on Friday -- are strained over Turkey and Qatar's support for the banned Muslim Brotherhood movement.

Egypt's foreign minister was pointedly absent from the Paris meeting, which France dismissed by saying that Egypt was still closely associated with the talks.

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