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Gaza ceasefire holding on second day

Egyptian and Palestinian sources said they expected an initial response by Israel to Palestinian demands.

Israeli ultra-orthodox Jews watch as Israeli police work at the scene after a Palestinian man rammed an excavator into a bus (R), on 4 August, 2014 in Jerusalem, killing one person and lightly injuring five others. Picture: AFP.

GAZA/CAIRO - A Gaza truce was holding on Wednesday as Egyptian mediators pursued talks with Israeli and Palestinian representatives on an enduring end to a war that has devastated the Hamas Islamist- dominated enclave.

Egypt's intelligence chief met a Palestinian delegation in Cairo, the state news agency MENA said, a day after he conferred with Israeli representatives. The Palestinian team, led by an official from Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah party, includes envoys from Hamas and the Islamic Jihad group.

"The indirect talks between the Palestinians and Israelis are moving forward," one Egyptian official said, making clear that the opposing sides were not meeting face to face. "It is still too early to talk about outcomes but we are optimistic."

Egyptian and Palestinian sources said they expected later on Wednesday an initial response by Israel to Palestinian demands, which it has so far shown no sign of accepting.

Israel withdrew ground forces from the Gaza Strip on Tuesday morning and started a 72-hour Egyptian-brokered ceasefire with Hamas as a first step towards a long-term deal.

In Gaza, where some half-million people have been displaced by a month of bloodshed, some residents left UN shelters to trek back to neighbourhoods where whole blocks have been destroyed by Israeli shelling and the smell of decomposing bodies fills the air.

Streets in towns in southern Israel, which had been under daily rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, were filled again with playing children. The military said that a rocket-warning siren that sounded in the south in the afternoon was a false alarm.

BLOCKADE

Palestinians want an end to the Israeli-Egyptian blockade on impoverished Gaza and the release of prisoners, including those Israel arrested in a June crackdown in the occupied West Bank after three Jewish seminary students were kidnapped and killed.

Israel has resisted those demands.

"For Israel the most important issue is the issue of demilitarisation. We must prevent Hamas from rearming, we must demilitarise the Gaza Strip," Mark Regev, a spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, told Reuters television.

US Secretary of State John Kerry, in an interview on the BBC's HARDtalk programme, also spoke of a need for Hamas to decommission its rocket arsenal.

"What we want to do is support the Palestinians and their desire to improve their lives and to be able to open crossings and get food in and reconstruct and have greater freedom," Kerry said.

"But that has to come with a greater responsibility towards Israel, which means giving up rockets, moving into a different plane," he said.

Kerry said, however, all this would "finally come together" as part of wider Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts that he has spearheaded but which have been frozen since April over Israel's opposition to a unity deal between Hamas and Abbas's Palestine Liberation Organization.

Hamas, which seized the Gaza Strip from forces loyal to Abbas in 2007, has ruled out giving up its weapons.