Israel expected to accept Arab-backed truce

Israel expected to accept Arab-backed truce

US and Palestinian Authority also support ceasefire terms, but Hamas's armed wing says it refuses the offer

Arab foreign ministers at an emergency Arab League meeting in Cairo on the Gaza conflict on July 15, 2014 (Photo credit: Khaled Desouki/AFP)
Arab foreign ministers at an emergency Arab League meeting in Cairo on the Gaza conflict on July 15, 2014 (Photo credit: Khaled Desouki/AFP)

Israel was poised to accept on Tuesday an Arab League-backed ceasefire deal with Hamas which would go into effect in the evening, Israeli officials indicated Monday night, as the terrorist group said it would refuse the deal, calling it “a surrender.”

Israeli media sites quoted diplomatic sources suggesting that Jerusalem was inclined to accept the Egyptian proposal. Earlier, sources told The Times of Israel that “Those proposals are being considered very seriously.”

If the cabinet accepts the ceasefire, it would be doing so despite staunch opposition from many in the Israeli right, including Jewish Home party head Naftali Bennett, who say Israel must deal Hamas a heavy military blow before a truce is to be considered.

But as the US, the Arab League and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas all welcomed the ceasefire proposal, Hamas’s armed wing rejected the plan, threatening to “intensify” its conflict with Israel if truce terms were unsatisfactory.

“No official or unofficial side has approached us about the ceasefire talked about in the media… (but) if the contents of this proposal are true, it is a surrender and we reject it outright,” the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades said in a statement.

Earlier, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum saying the group would not accept a truce without a fully-fledged deal to end hostilities.

“A ceasefire without reaching an agreement is rejected. In times of war, you don’t cease fire and then negotiate,” he told AFP.

He said Hamas had not received any official proposal and that the idea of relinquishing “the weapons of the resistance are a red line.”

Hamas’s former prime minister Ismail Haniyeh said in a televised speech that “countries are intervening” to stop the bloodshed, and that Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal was involved in “diplomatic moves,” but did not elaborate.

A picture taken from the southern Israeli Gaza border shows a rocket being launched from the Gaza Strip into Israel on Friday, July 11, 2014. (photo credit: Menahem Kahana/AFP)
A picture taken from the southern Israeli Gaza border shows a rocket being launched from the Gaza Strip into Israel on Friday, July 11, 2014. (photo credit: Menahem Kahana/AFP)

The conditions in the Egyptian proposal do not include any of the demands that Hamas has been repeating in recent days. As reported in the Egyptian media, there is no mention in the proposal of Hamas’s oft-repeated demand for the release of the dozens of its operatives, freed in the 2011 Shalit deal, who were rearrested in recent weeks by Israeli forces in the West Bank in the wake of the murders of the three Israeli teenagers. There is also no concrete commitment regarding the opening of the Rafah border crossing or the payments of the salaries of Hamas’s 40,000 clerks in Gaza.

Arab foreign ministers in Cairo have called on “all parties” to accept the Egyptian proposal to end the conflict.

The ministers, meeting for an extraordinary Arab League session, also backed a Palestinian demand for “international protection.”

Abbas too spoke out in favor of the deal, urging both sides to accept its terms and saying Egypt was making efforts to protect the Palestinian people.

The United States also supported the Egyptian offer.

“We welcome Egypt’s call for a ceasefire and hope this will lead to the restoration of calm as soon as possible,” State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki wrote in a statement issued late Monday evening.

In the statement, Psaki emphasized that “Secretary Kerry has been deeply engaged in conversations with Prime Minister (Benjamin) Netanyahu, Egyptian government officials and President Abbas throughout this difficult period, and the United States remains committed to working with them and our regional partners to find a resolution to this dangerous and volatile situation.”

In the hours before the Egyptian agreement was presented, Kerry was said to be mulling a whirlwind visit to Cairo and to Doha, Qatar to try to get the two countries to help bring an end to the escalating violence. Earlier Monday, US Vice President Joe Biden hosted Qatari Minister of State for Defense Affairs Hamad Bin Ali Al-Attiyah at the White House, where White House officials confirmed, the two discussed the situation in the Gaza Strip.

According to the proposal, a de-escalation of violence is to start at 9 a.m. local time to be followed by a full truce within 12 hours.

“Israel shall cease all hostilities against the Gaza Strip via land, sea, and air, and shall commit to refrain from conducting any ground raids against Gaza and targeting civilians,” the text said. “All Palestinian factions in Gaza shall cease all hostilities from the Gaza Strip against Israel via land, sea, air, and underground, and shall commit to refrain from firing all types of rockets, and from attacks on the borders or targeting civilians,” it said.

Following the cease-fire, talks about opening crossings between Gaza and Israel to allow more goods into the coastal strip would take place in Cairo, the text said. Cease-fire talks would be held by Egypt separately with both Israel and Hamas and other Palestinian factions.

At least 186 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli strikes on the Gaza Strip intended to stop rocket attacks, as the conflict entered its eighth day. the UN says around 80 percent of those killed were civilians. There have not been any Israeli fatalities from some 1,000 rockets, with Israel’s Iron Dome defense system intercepting dozens of rockets heading into residential areas, though 2 people died of heart attacks when sirens sounded, and several have been injured by missile shrapnel.

Several sources said Monday that despite days of punishing airstrikes, Israel’s military campaign has failed to inflict serious damage on the Hamas war machine.

Israel’s Operation Protective Edge, nearly a week old, has been hobbled by insufficient intelligence, an unwillingness to inflict mass harm on Gaza’s civilian population, and Hamas advancements based on takeaways from the last major armed conflict in 2012, according to current and former officials.

“They still have almost 90 percent of their rockets,” said Yaakov Amidror, a former national security adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Mitch Ginsburg, Avi Issacharoff and Rebecca Shimoni Stoil contributed to this report.

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