Israeli soldiers walk near the border with the central Gaza Strip. REUTERS/Baz Ratner
Egypt has launched an initiative to halt fighting between
Israel and Palestinian militants, proposing a ceasefire to be
followed by talks in Cairo on settling the conflict in which
Gaza authorities say more than 170 people have died.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will convene his
decision-making security cabinet on Tuesday to discuss the
proposal on the Gaza violence, an Israeli official said.
The militants resumed rocket attacks on Tel Aviv on Monday
after a 24-hour lull in strikes on the Israeli commercial
capital, while Israel kept up its air and naval bombardments
of the Gaza Strip despite the growing international pressure
for a ceasefire.
Egypt's proposal, which would take effect at 0600 GMT on
Tuesday, calls for a ceasefire within 12 hours of that time,
followed by negotiations between both sides in Cairo within
48 hours, the state news agency MENA said.
A foreign ministry spokesman told state television that Egypt
would seek Arab backing for the initiative at an
extraordinary meeting of the Arab League on Monday night.
Asked if there would be a ceasefire on Tuesday morning, an
Egyptian official told Reuters: "We hope so."
"We are not at the negotiations stage yet. First the sides
would cease fire and then each will send delegations to Egypt
to discuss the terms," the official added.
So far the international calls for a ceasefire have had
little effect and there were no immediate signs that the
initiative by Egypt - which struck a peace treaty with Israel
more than 30 years ago - would necessarily succeed.
However, the Israeli official seemed to put a positive face
on the proposed truce, saying that Israel's week-old
offensive in Gaza had weakened the Islamist Hamas group
Earlier, the Israeli military said it had shot down a drone
from Gaza, which is sandwiched between Israeli and Egyptian
territory. This marked the first reported deployment of an
unmanned aircraft by Palestinian militants and a possible
step up in the sophistication of their arsenal, although it
was not clear whether it was armed.
Their rocket attacks have been regularly intercepted but more
than half a dozen Israelis have been wounded since the start
of the week-old offensive. Gaza health officials say Israeli
air strikes have killed 180 Palestinians and wounded 1,390,
most of them civilians, in the densely populated enclave.
Egyptian media said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was
due in Cairo on Tuesday for talks on the Gaza situation.
There was no immediate U.S. confirmation of the report.
The European Union said it was in touch with "all parties in
the region" to press for an immediate halt to the
hostilities, the worst flare-up of Israeli-Palestinian
violence for almost two years.
Two members of Netanyahu's security cabinet suggested a truce
might be in the works. "There are contacts all the time,"
Communications Minister Gilad Erdan said when asked about the
possibility of Kerry visiting Cairo.
Economics Minister Naftali Bennett said in remarks on Channel
2 television "all options are on the table," though the
far-right leader said the fighting could also go on.
The violence was prompted by the murder of three Israeli
teenagers and revenge killing of a Palestinian youth. Israeli
officials said on Monday three people arrested over the
Palestinian's death had confessed to burning him alive.
Peace efforts have been complicated by Hamas's rejection of a
mere "calm for calm", in which both sides hold their fire, in
favour of wider conditions including prisoner release and an
end to Israel's Gaza blockade.
The Israeli army said its aircraft and naval gunboats
attacked dozens of targets in Gaza on Monday and that
Palestinian militants fired 115 rockets into Israel, wounding
a boy in the port city of Ashdod, where a home was damaged,
and two girls, 11 and 13, near Beersheba.
Palestinian health officials said at least 20 people in the
Gaza Strip were wounded.
But Israel did not carry out a threat to step up attacks
against rocket-launching sites it said were hidden among
civilian homes in the town of Beit Lahiya after urging
residents there to leave. A U.N. aid agency said around a
quarter of the town's 70,000 residents had fled.
Tel Aviv experienced a rare lull in morning rocket strikes,
but they resumed during the evening rush hour, with the Iron
Dome missile interceptor system going into action. Police
said there were no casualties or damage. Hamas, the Islamist
group which runs Gaza, said its armed wing had sent several
locally-made drones to carry out "special missions" deep
A military spokesman said the drone was shot down near
Ashdod, about 25 km (15 miles) north of Gaza, by a U.S.-built
Patriot missile, which was used largely ineffectively by
Israel against Iraqi Scud missiles in the 1991 Gulf War.
An Egyptian-brokered truce doused the last big Gaza flare-up
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told Egyptian President
Abel Fattah al-Sisi in a phone call that his country is the
most credible party capable of persuading both sides to stand
down, an official Egyptian statement said.
However, Cairo's government is at odds with Islamist Hamas,
complicating a mediation bid with the group, an offshoot of
the now-outlawed Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.
In Cairo, Palestinian sources said they had plans to submit a
draft resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire via the
Arab League, to the United Nations Security Council.
Israel's Erdan told Channel 2 television that it wanted "long
term calm, and a reality change, for Hamas and terrorist
infrastructure to sustain as big a blow as possible". But
"whether this happens alongside a diplomatic solution, at
some point, we certainly wouldn't rule it out" Erdan said.
SEVENTH DAY OF WARFARE
Al-Mezan, a Gaza-based Palestinian human rights group, said
869 Palestinian homes have been destroyed or damaged in
Israeli attacks over the past week.
Hamas leaders have said a ceasefire must include an end to
Israel's Gaza blockade and a recommitment to the 2012 truce
agreement. In addition, Hamas wants Egypt to ease
restrictions it imposed at its Rafah crossing with the Gaza
Strip since the military toppled Islamist president Mohamed
Mursi last July.
Hamas has faced a cash crisis and Gaza's economic hardship
has deepened as a result of Egypt's destruction of
cross-border smuggling tunnels. Cairo accuses Hamas of aiding
anti-government Islamist militants in Egypt's Sinai
peninsula, an allegation the Palestinian group denies.
For its part, Hamas leaders said, Israel would have to
release hundreds of the group's activists it arrested in the
occupied West Bank last month while searching for the three
Jewish seminary students who it said were kidnapped by Hamas.
The detainees include more than 50 Hamas men who were freed
from Israeli jails in 2011 in a prisoner exchange.
Israel's Gaza offensive, which began last Tuesday, has
claimed the lives of at least 138 Palestinian civilians, more
than 30 of them children, health officials in the enclave
Eight Palestinians were killed in a series of separate air
strikes after darkness fell, among them a four-year-old girl,
the Palestinian Health Ministry said.
There have been no fatalities in Israel in the fighting. Iron
Dome, which is Israeli-built and partly funded by the United
States, has intercepted many of the rocket salvoes.
But the persistent rocket fire has disrupted life in major
cities, paralyzed vulnerable southern towns and triggered
Israeli mobilisation of troops for a possible Gaza invasion
if the Palestinian rockets persist.