Israel accepted an Egyptian-backed proposal for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas early Tuesday morning, agreeing to stop its raids on targets in the Gaza Strip in exchange for a halt in rocket fire from the coastal enclave.
However, the proposal was quickly rejected by Hamas as “not acceptable.”
Egypt put the proposal forward on Monday night, just before an emergency meeting of the Arab League foreign ministers and a day before US Secretary of State John Kerry was scheduled to arrive in Cairo to try to secure a ceasefire. The cessation of hostilities was to begin at 9 a.m.
Kerry later canceled his trip, with US officials saying he wanted to give Egyptian mediation efforts a chance first.
Six of the eight Israeli ministers in the top-level security cabinet voted for the ceasefire, while two — Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett — rejected the proposal.
A diplomatic official in Jerusalem said that Israel would “respond forcefully” should Hamas reject the deal and continue firing rockets.
Two rockets were fired at Israeli communities on the Gaza periphery shortly after the ceasefire announcement, but the morning saw relatively few attacks by Gazan terrorists in comparison to previous days.
Israel accepted the Egyptian ceasefire agreement because it would restore the status quo that preceded Operation Protective Edge but leave Hamas severely weakened, the official said.
“Hamas didn’t achieve what it had planned to achieve: not in the military campaign itself, where it was dealt a severe blow with more than 1,700 attacks, not in its efforts to harm Israeli civilians, not in its desire to carry out strategic terror attacks from the sea, the air and the ground — which were attempted but thwarted — and not in its ability to recruit the Arab world and Judea and Samaria,” the official said, referring to Palestinians in the West Bank.
Hamas also failed to accomplish anything with the Egyptian ceasefire proposal, which does not include any preconditions and does not mention Hamas’s demands for the payment of salaries for its men in Gaza and the release of prisoners, the official said.
Senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri said the Palestinian group rejected the proposal.
Abu Zuhri told The Associated Press that “this proposal is not acceptable.”
Hamas’s armed wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, rejected the offer as “surrender,” pledging to “intensify” its attacks on Israel.
Hamas spokesman in Lebanon Osama Hamdan told CNN early Tuesday that Hamas had not rejected the proposal, as it had not been consulted on it.
Hamas has said it will not hold its fire without Israel agreeing to a list of demands, including an end to its eight-year blockade on Gaza, along with the opening of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.
It also wants Israel to free Palestinians it rearrested after releasing them in exchange for kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas welcomed the Egyptian initiative, as did the Arab League, which called on “all parties” to accept the truce.
The US and Mideast Quartet also backed the offer.
After the cabinet decision, Knesset opposition chief Isaac Herzog called for the government to use the potential truce to make lasting changes to Israel’s political arrangement with the Palestinians.
“The government must turn the ceasefire into a political change,” the Labor leader said, according to Israel Radio.
However, Shas MK Eli Yishai called the acceptance of the ceasefire a “slap in the face of all Israeli citizens.”
The proposal called for a ceasefire to begin within 12 hours of “unconditional acceptance” by the sides, with both sides ceasing hostilities, followed by the opening of Gaza’s border crossings and talks in Cairo within two days.
Following the ceasefire, talks about opening crossings between Gaza and Israel to allow more goods into the coastal strip would take place in Cairo, the text said. Ceasefire talks would be held by Egypt separately with both Israel and Hamas and other Palestinian factions.
As the two sides mulled the ceasefire proposal overnight, the violence in the south continued.
At around 2 a.m., five people were injured in Eilat and ten others were said to be in a state a shock after two rockets hit the city.
Photos posted to Twitter in the wake of the attack showed a small fire at the scene of one of the rocket impact sites.
Then, at around 7 a.m., a rocket hit an open field in the Hof Ashkelon regional council.
Palestinian sources reported that Israel continued to attack targets in the Gaza Strip early Tuesday morning.
The death toll in Gaza after seven days of fighting is at 192, according to Palestinian sources. Over a thousand people have been injured, as Israel has carried out raids on some 1,500 targets.
While Israel has absorbed over a thousand rockets fired from Gaza in the last week, it has suffered only a small number of casualties, including two sisters, aged 11 and 13, who injured in an attack on Beersheba Monday.
The country has been mostly protected by the Iron Dome anti-missile system, which has downed over 150 rockets since the conflict began.
The Associated Press and AFP contributed to this report.