Israel-Gaza conflict: Israel approves Egyptian truce proposal to end violence

Plan proposed by Cairo aims to halt week-long attacks

Heather Saul
Tuesday 15 July 2014 12:09
A Palestinian talks on a mobile phone as he walks on the rubble of a damaged house following an overnight Israeli missile strike in Gaza City, Tuesday, July 15, 2014
A Palestinian talks on a mobile phone as he walks on the rubble of a damaged house following an overnight Israeli missile strike in Gaza City, Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Israel has accepted a deal proposed by Egypt that would halt the week-long conflict in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday but a spokesperson for Hamas, which controls Gaza, has rejected the plan as "unacceptable".

At Israeli military headquarters in Tel Aviv, the security cabinet convened by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it voted to approve the truce deal, minutes before it was due to come into effect at 9am local time.

Earlier, Hamas acknowledged "diplomatic movement" on ending the conflict, but spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told the Associated Press after Israel accepted the offer: "This proposal is not acceptable."

Mr Zuhri said the Islamist group had not received an official draft of the ceasefire proposal. He repeated its position that conditions it has set must be met before it lays down its weapons.

Mr Netanyahu has since warned Israel would have "all international legitimacy to broaden the military operation to achieve the required quiet". He told reporters that "if Hamas rejects the Egyptian proposal and the rocket fire from Gaza does not cease, and that appears to be the case, we are prepared to continue and intensify our operation."

The Egyptian-brokered plan calls for a ceasefire to begin within 12 hours of "unconditional acceptance" by the sides, followed by the opening of Gaza's border crossings and talks in Cairo within two days. High-level delegations from Israel and the Palestinian factions would then hold separate talks in Cairo within 48 hours to consolidate the ceasefire with "confidence-building measures", according to the proposal.

The deal comes as Israel said it had bombed 25 sites in Gaza overnight and said there had been two cross-border launches, both of which did not cause any damage.

Palestinian medical officials said a 63-year-old man and a 52-year-old woman were killed - bringing the enclave's death toll to more than 182. The UN estimates that most of these deaths were civillians.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has welcomed the proposal and urged its acceptance, according to the official Palestinian news agency WAFA.

Amos Gilad, a senior Israeli defence official and envoy to Cairo, cast the deal positively and claimed Hamas had been weakened by the air and sea bombardment of Gaza.

"Look at the balance, and you see that Hamas tried every possible means of striking at Israel while bringing great and terrible damage on its people, from their perspective," Mr Gilad told Israel's Army Radio.

"The Egyptian proposal includes a halt to all kind of (military) activity," he continued. "What this proposal, if it is accepted, means is that, willy-nilly, Hamas did not manage to make good on its intentions."

Hamas's armed wing, the al-Qassam Brigades, earlier appeared to reject the reported text of the truce deal, saying: "Our battle with the enemy continues and will increase in ferocity and intensity."

And speaking on CNN's The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer, senior Hamas representative Osama Hamdan described the deal as a "joke."

"We did not receive this declared paper from the Egyptians ... which means it's an initiative for the media. It's not a political initiative," he said.

"What they are trying to do is to corner the Palestinians and to help the Israelis more."

The worst Gaza conflict in two years has seriously injured at least four killed Israelis but no one in Israel has been killed, largely due to its Iron Dome anti-missile system. However, the frequent rocket salvoes have disrupted life as air raid sirens sent people in much of the country moving to shelters for safety.

US Secretary of State John Kerry will hold talk with Egyptian officials in Cairo on situation later on Tuesday, Egypt's state news agency reported. In Washington, US President Barack Obama on Monday spoke positively of the emerging ceasefire.

In a speech, Mr Obama described the deaths of Palestinian civilians as a "tragedy" while reiterating US support for Israel in the face of Hamas's attacks, saying: "We are encouraged that Egypt has made a proposal to accomplish this (truce) goal which we hope can restore a calm that we've been seeking."

Hours before the proposal was announced, Gaza militants resumed rocket attacks on Tel Aviv after a 24-hour lull, while Israel continued its strikes in the Gaza Strip and deployed infantry and armour along the frontier.

Israel had mobilised tens of thousands of troops for a threatened Gaza invasion if the rocket salvoes persisted.

"We still have the possibility of going in, under cabinet authority, and putting and end to them (the rockets)," Mr Gilad added.

Late on Monday, Israel bombed the house of Marwan Issa, a top commander of Hamas' armed wing, in Bureij refugee camp.

The surge in hostilities over the past week was prompted by the murder last month of three Jewish seminary students in the occupied West Bank and the suspected revenge killing on 2 July of a Palestinian youth in Jerusalem.

Israel said on Monday three Jews were being detained in police custody after allegedly confessing to killing Arab teenager Mohammed Abu Khdeir, but their names have not been released.

Hamas leaders have said a ceasefire must include an end to Israel's blockade of Gaza and a recommitment to a truce reached in an eight-day war there in 2012. Hamas also wants Egypt to ease restrictions at its Rafah crossing with Gaza imposed after the military ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi last July.

But the Egyptian proposal made no mention of Rafah or when restrictions might be eased. It said only that "crossings shall be opened and the movement of persons and goods through (them) shall be facilitated once the security situation becomes stable on the ground".

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.

Hamas has said it wants the release of hundreds of its activists arrested in the West Bank while Israel searched for the three missing teens. The detainees include more than 50 Hamas men freed from Israeli jails in a 2011 prisoner exchange.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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