Cairo leads efforts to broker Gaza truce as Israel holds back


Click to follow

Egypt was making intensive efforts, with UN backing, last night to finalise a truce that would end four days of violence triggered by the attack in which eight Israelis were killed by gunmen last week.

Under proposals being pressed by the Egyptians to halt the cycle of Israeli air attacks, Hamas would actively enforce a ceasefire which would end militant rocket attacks and lead to Israeli halting its air strikes on the territory.

Premature local media reports that the ceasefire had already been agreed were undermined by two more Grad missiles which were fired from Gaza at the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon last night. And Abu Mujahed, a spokesman for the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), the faction Israel blames for Thursday's attack near the Red Sea resort of Eilat, was quoted as dismissing any agreement with the "Zionist enemy".

But with the violence at a lower level than in any of the previous three days, a Hamas source said last night that contacts between the parties were continuing. Robert Serry, the UN Special Co-ordinator for the Middle East, is one of those urging the ceasefire plan.

Meanwhile Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, was said by officials to have ordered his generals to ensure air strikes on Gaza were as "surgical" as possible and to "make every effort not to harm Gaza civilians, who are not our enemy". Israel is already striving to repair relations with post-Mubarak Egypt after three Egyptian security personnel were killed by Israeli troops after Thursday's attack.

The Israeli government appeared to be resisting increasingly bellicose calls for a much wider military operation in Gaza. Shaul Mofaz, the Kadima politician who chairs the influential Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee, said Israel needed to take further steps against Gaza's ruling faction Hamas and "topple their infrastructures". But Mark Regev, the Prime Minister's spokesman, said Mr Netanyahu had told officials that Israeli air strikes had two aims: to stop the attacks on southern Israeli families within reach of rockets from Gaza, which killed an Israeli man in Beersheba on Saturday night; and to target those responsible for the rocket attacks.

Mr Regev added that the failure of the moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to condemn Thursday's attack "raises serious questions about [the Palestinians'] readiness for independence and their commitment to fighting terror".

The PRC also claimed responsibility for the rocket attack which killed a man in Beersheba on Saturday night. Yossi Shushan, 38, was killed reportedly when he was on his way to pick up his wife, who is nine months pregnant, from her brother's home in Beersheba. When the air-raid siren sounded, he got out of his car and suffered a fatal head injury.

At least 15 Palestinians – mainly militants but also including a doctor and three children under 14 – have been killed in Israeli air strikes since Thursday's attack.

But in a more limited response to the Beersheba attack than had been expected, Israel launched three air strikes on Gaza yesterday, one of which was on a Hamas outpost, and injured seven people.