Gaza awaits Israeli ceasefire proposals


A Hamas official said tonight that Egyptian efforts to broker a truce with Israel had been held up because the Israeli government had yet to respond to proposals, indicating there would be no ceasefire until tomorrow at the earliest.

"The Israeli side has not responded yet, so we will not hold a (news) conference this evening and must wait until tomorrow," said Ezzat al-Rishq, a senior Hamas leader. "The truce is now held up because we are waiting for the Israeli side to respond," he added in a short telephone interview.

Violence continued this evening with the Israeli military saying in posts on Twitter that it hit more than 30 targets in Gaza after about 8pm local time, including strikes targeting two militants. At least 33 Palestinians were killed today, bringing the death toll in the week-long conflict to 135.

An Egyptian official had earlier said Cairo was hopeful of an agreement today following a statement by Ayman Taha, another Hamas official that said a ceasefire had been reached and would go into effect within hours.

Osama Hamdan, another leading Hamas official, later confirmed that no agreement had been reached.

"The situation to this point is that there is no agreement Our people and our resistance are ready for all possibilities," he told Al Jazeera television, speaking from Beirut.

"The resistance is capable of continuing and we have surprises," he said. "We insist on (our) conditions for a truce."

Israel and Hamas said they were open to diplomatic mediation efforts being led by Egypt, but they remained apart in their demands. Hamas officials said agreement was close.

US secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton arrived in Israel on an emergency visit to help end a week of fighting between Israel and Hamas militants.

Mrs Clinton touched down tonight and was headed to Jerusalem for talks with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu amid mixed signs about the prospects of a ceasefire.

Speaking earlier, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a meeting with UN chief Ban Ki-moon, in the region as part of an international diplomatic push to end nearly a week of fighting, said that “if a long-term solution can be put in place by diplomatic means, Israel will be a willing partner.”

Israel launched the offensive last week to end months of rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.

Mr Ban has condemned the rocket attacks but urged Israel to show “maximum restraint.” He also has offered his services to help broker a truce.

Earlier Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi said Israel’s “aggression” against Gaza will end tomorrow.

Mr Morsi did not provide any evidence to support his prediction that an end to Israel’s week-long offensive against Gaza was imminent. He only said negotiations between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers will yield “positive results” during the coming hours.

While the US has backed Israel’s right to defend itself against rocket fire from Gaza, Washington has warned its ally against pursuing a ground assault that would further escalate the violence and could dramatically increase casualties on both sides.

Mr Obama spoke by phone for almost a half-hour with Mr Morsi, commending his efforts to de-escalate tensions.

Mrs Clinton is not heading to the Middle East with any specific proposal to broker a peace deal, US officials said. She will reassure Israel it has full American support while urging it to limit civilian casualties, and she will press members of the Western-backed Palestinian government in the West Bank to influence its brethren in Gaza to halt the rocket fire.

In Cairo, she will strike a similar note by reminding the Egyptian government of its peace obligations with Israel under a treaty they share.

Hamas wants Israel to halt all attacks on Gaza and lift tight restrictions on trade and movement in and out of the territory that have been in place since Hamas seized Gaza by force in 2007.

Israel demands an end to rocket fire from Gaza and a halt to weapons smuggling into Gaza through tunnels under the border with Egypt.

Three Israeli civilians have also been killed and dozens wounded since the fighting began, the numbers possibly kept down by a rocket-defence system that Israel developed with US funding. More than 1,000 rockets have been fired at Israel this week, the Israeli military said.

In the latest attack a Palestinian rocket hit the outskirts of Jerusalem, landing harmlessly in an open area in one of the longest strikes fired from the Gaza Strip.

Jerusalem, nearly 50 miles from Gaza, is the most distant city the militants have targeted, signalling an increasing sophistication in their arsenal.

The attacks aimed at Jerusalem and the Tel Aviv area have dramatically showcased the militants’ new capabilities, including a locally made M-75 rocket that appears to have taken Israeli defence officials by surprise.


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