Israeli leaders meet to assess ceasefire offer
Israel’s senior ministers met last night to consider ceasefire proposals drawn up by Egyptian mediators after extensive talks in Cairo with Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders.
Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, defence minister Ehud Barak and foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, who as a troika have taken all the key decisions since the start of the military campaign six days ago, were to decide whether to end the fierce aerial assault on Gaza or order a ground offensive.
Both sides expressed cautious optimism that a deal was close, and talked of a critical 24-hour period that would determine the course of the conflict. United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon arrives in Israel today after talks with Egyptian leaders, and it is possible his visit will coincide with a ceasefire agreement.
Israeli sources said the troika was inclined to accept a two- to three-day truce while details of a long-term ceasefire could be worked out to try to guarantee quiet for residents in the south of Israel.
In Cairo, exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal claimed that Mr Netanyahu had requested a truce, but Israeli officials dismissed this as being about as accurate as previous Hamas claims that they had downed an F-16 fighter jet and attacked the Knesset.
Mr Mashal said Hamas was ready for a truce, but not at any price. “The enemy’s objectives have failed and this has enhanced the Palestinian people’s resolve.”
Tens of thousands of Israeli soldiers continue to surround the Gaza Strip and generals said preparations were complete for a ground operation. Israeli ministers said it will be known in a day or two if an invasion will occur, but stressed that a diplomatic solution to end the rocket fire was preferable.
Hamas has demanded that Israel agrees to end the maritime blockade on Gaza as part of any agreement. Israel was pressing for a 300m-deep buffer zone inside Gaza, along the length of the security fence, to stop militants approaching the border.
On day six of operation Pillar of Defence at least 27 Palestinians were killed and more than 60 wounded as Israel attacked more than 80 targets across Gaza. Israel claimed that four senior Islamic Jihad activists were killed in a strike on a high-rise building in Gaza City used by some local and foreign media organisations.
Militants fired more than 120 rockets into Israel, hitting an empty school in southern city of Ashkelon.
At least 100 Palestinians have been killed since Wednesday, along with three Israeli civilians. The Council of the European Union released a statement reaffirming Israel’s right to defend itself and demanding an end to all hostilities.
Israel’s ambassador to Ireland, Boaz Modai, defended Israel’s position, saying “no country in the world would accept with equanimity an ongoing deadly threat that disrupts the daily lives of its citizens”.