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Updated Saturday, November 24, 2012 at 10:46 PM

Confusion over cease-fire boundaries prevail in Gaza

By JODI RUDOREN
The New York Times

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Confusion continued Saturday over the status of cease-fire talks Egypt is conducting between Hamas and Israel, as the Hamas prime minister announced progress regarding restrictions on the movements of fishermen and farmers in the border area, progress the Israeli prime minister's office denied.

One day after Israeli soldiers killed a Palestinian and wounded 19 as they approached the fence on Gaza's eastern border, some Gaza fishermen said they had ventured past the 3-nautical-mile limit, long imposed by Israel, without provoking an Israeli response.

The fishermen's move followed an announcement by the office of the Hamas prime minister, Ismail Haniya, that the Egyptian intelligence service, which brokered the initial cease-fire deal announced in Cairo last week, told him the limit had been extended to 6 nautical miles.

But Mark Regev, a spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, said Saturday that "nothing has changed on the ground or at sea until it is agreed to by Israel and Egypt."

He declined to discuss whether a meeting had been set for Monday, as the Hamas statement said, on the question of Palestinian movements in the so-called buffer zone, the 1,000-foot strip of land on Gaza's northern and eastern borders where the shooting erupted Friday.

The mixed messages raised the question of whether Hamas might be trying to provoke the Israelis to break the cease-fire, or perhaps to establish new facts on the ground — farmers tilling the borderland, fishermen fishing farther out — that would increase its leverage in negotiations.

"Hamas is definitely trying to score points here," said Mkhaimar Abusada, a political scientist at Al Azhar University in Gaza City. "Hamas is trying to say that the cease-fire is in the interest of Hamas and is in the interest of the Palestinians, that the cease-fire agreement is going to gradually put an end to the siege."

In another sign of trouble for the cease-fire talks, Moussa Abu Marzouk — the No. 2 leader of Hamas — said the group will not stop arming itself because only a strong arsenal, not negotiations, can extract concessions from Israel.

Abu Marzouk said Saturday that the group would not disarm, arguing that recent Palestinian history has shown negotiations with Israel lead nowhere unless backed by force."There is no way to relinquish weapons," Abu Marzouk said in his office on the outskirts of Cairo. "These weapons protected us and there is no way to stop obtaining and manufacturing them."

One thing free of confusion Saturday was the return to school of thousands of Gaza children for the first time since the cease-fire took hold late Wednesday. About half of Gaza's 1.6 million people are children.

In 245 U.N.-run schools, the day was dedicated to letting children share what they experienced, in hopes of helping them deal with trauma, educators said.

Meanwhile, with Egypt in turmoil over a decree issued last week by President Mohammed Morsi granting himself broad powers unchecked by judicial review, the prospects for further negotiations on the buffer zone, fishing and the expansion of Gaza's border crossings for people and goods remained unclear.

"Morsi is definitely preoccupied with internal Egyptian problems, he is definitely overwhelmed," Abusada said.

Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.


BERNAT ARMANGUE / AP
Palestinian children walk in debris by a damaged school in Gaza City on Saturday. Schools reopened on Saturday.




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