Israeli cabinet to discuss Egyptian ceasefire proposal
Three-step plan would include 12-hour ceasefire from this morning
A Palestinian protester argues with an Israeli soldier during a protest against air strikes in the Gaza Strip at a checkpoint near Nablus yesterday. The aim of international mediators would be to forge a compromise package acceptable to both that would bring an end to the bloodshed quickly. Photograph: Abed Omar Qusini/Reuters
Israel’s security cabinet is due to meet today to discuss an Egyptian proposal for a temporary ceasefire as a first step in ending the latest Israeli-Palestinian conflict that is reported to have killed 178 people in Gaza.
As international pressure for a ceasefire gained momentum, Egypt’s foreign ministry last night proposed a three-step plan, starting with a 12-hour ceasefire by the Israelis and Gaza’s Hamas rulers that would take effect this morning.
This would be followed by the opening of border crossings and talks in Cairo between the two sides. US secretary of state John Kerry is due in Cairo today to meet senior Egyptian officials, while in Jerusalem President Shimon Peres is expected to meet Tony Blair, Middle East envoy of the Quartet, which represents the US, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations.
‘Halt to hostilities’According to Palestinian sources, at least 178 people in Gaza have been killed – one-quarter of whom are children, according to the UN – and more than 1,300 people have been wounded. Dozens of Israelis, too, have been wounded but there have been no fatalities as a direct result of rocket explosions.
Thousands of people fled their homes in northern Gaza after an Israeli warning to leave. The UN says 17,000 residents have sought refuge in their compounds.
Yesterday morning, the Israeli military shot down a Palestinian drone close to the southern port of Ashdod. Hamas claimed it had launched three drones into Israel. A rocket fired from Syria landed last night close to a kibbutz on the Israeli Golan Heights and Israel responded with artillery fire into Syria.
Ceasefire agreementAs the efforts throughout the day to end the violence intensified, Israel and Hamas made it clear they did not intend to return to the ceasefire agreement that ended the last round of fighting in 2012.
Israel seeks the removal of existing rockets from Gaza, an end to Hamas’s ability to manufacture new rockets and an international mechanism in place based on the model that led to the removal of Syria’s chemical weapons.
Hamas in turn is demanding an end to Israel’s economic blockade, and an Egyptian commitment to permanently reopen the Rafah crossing. It is also demanding the release of 56 militants who were freed in an earlier prisoner swap with Israel but were rearrested after the killing of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank last month.
The demands from both sides should be seen as opening negotiating positions.
End to the bloodshedThe aim of international mediators will be to forge a compromise package acceptable to both sides that would bring an end to the bloodshed quickly.
Israel’s foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman warned it was premature for Israel to call off its military offensive. “If this operation ends now, it is clear to all that it would be just a break before the fourth operation – and such an agreement would be worthless. Hamas exploits every time-out to produce more rockets and increase their range.” A ground offensive remains a real option, he said. – (additional reporting PA)