Israel and Hamas likely to reach ceasefire in coming days — diplomat

Official says intensified Israeli bombing campaign on Thursday and Friday likely last blows before agreement to halt fighting, after Hamas sends signals it’s ready to take a break

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Black smoke billows after an Israeli airstrike on Gaza City targeted the Intaj Bank linked to Hamas on May 14, 2021. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)
Black smoke billows after an Israeli airstrike on Gaza City targeted the Intaj Bank linked to Hamas on May 14, 2021. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

A diplomatic source familiar with efforts to broker a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas said Friday that the sides could come to an agreement within days, amid intensive efforts to halt nearly a week of deadly conflict.

The source, who spoke to The Times of Israel on condition of anonymity, said mediators had expressed cautious optimism for a halt within days of fighting between the Israel Defense Forces and Gaza-based fighters led by the Hamas terror group.

The assessment among negotiators was based on experience brokering ceasefires to end previous rounds of violence between the sides and a “clear reading of the room,” the diplomat said.

Hamas political leader Khaled Mashaal told a Turkish news agency Friday that the Gaza terror group is ready for a ceasefire but has not received a response from Israel.

He said the US and Russia were involved in the talks. Another Hamas official told the Arabic al-Meyadeen outlet that there had not been any progress in negotiations.

An Egyptian intelligence official with knowledge of the talks told the Associated Press that Israel rejected an Egyptian proposal for a yearlong truce with Hamas and other Gaza militants, which would have started at midnight Thursday had Israel agreed. He said Hamas had accepted the proposal.

Israeli soldiers at a staging area near the Israeli border with Gaza, amid the escalation of Palestinian and Israeli violence. May 14, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

The official said Israel wanted to delay a ceasefire until it could destroy more of Hamas’ and Islamic Jihad’s military capabilities. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters.

The diplomat who spoke to ToI said that negotiators believe Israel’s heavy bombardments of Gaza Thursday and Friday indicated it could be getting its last licks in and will soon agree to halt fighting as well.

Israel aimed intense mortar fire at the Strip Thursday and then overnight launched a massive sortie of 160 planes dropping hundreds of bombs for nearly an hour in a blitz meant to destroy a network of tunnels dug beneath the Strip.

An explosion lights the sky following an Israeli air strike on Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip early on May 14, 2021. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

Egypt has been playing a major role in the current efforts to end the violence, holding calls with officials in Hamas, Qatar, the US and other countries, though not with Israel directly, another official told ToI.

US Deputy Assistant Secretary for Israeli and Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr arrived in Tel Aviv Friday for talks with the sides aimed at bringing an end to the ongoing round of violence with Gaza.

Amr “arrived to TLV today to reinforce the need to work toward a sustainable calm, recognizing Israel’s right to self-defense. Israelis and Palestinians deserve equal measures of freedom, security, dignity and prosperity,” the US embassy in Israel tweeted.

US Deputy Assistant Secretary for Israeli-Palestinian Affairs arrives at Ben Gurion Airport on May 14, 2021. (Matty Stern/US Embassy Jerusalem)

He came hours after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the fighting was “not over yet.”

“We will do everything to restore security to our cities and our citizens,” he said.

On Thursday, US President Joe Biden said he spoke with Netanyahu about calming the fighting but also backed the Israeli leader by saying “there has not been a significant overreaction.”

He said the goal now is to “get to a point where there is a significant reduction in attacks, particularly rocket attacks.” He called the effort “a work in progress.”

A long exposure picture shows Iron Dome interception missiles fired as rockets are launched from the Gaza Strip to Israel, May 13, 2021. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

A Security Council diplomat said that Sunday’s emergency session on the violence in Israel and Gaza will see member states unanimously issue calls for a ceasefire, though members of the body will likely fail to come together on where to place blame for the fighting.

Israeli firefighters and security forces inspect damage to a house hit by a rocket fired from Gaza on May 12, 2021 ( GIL COHEN-MAGEN / AFP)

The meeting will further pressure Israel and Hamas to agree to a return to calm, the diplomat said.

Fighting between Israel and Hamas began in earnest Monday after the terror group aimed missile fire at Jerusalem following days of clashes between protesters and Israeli police centered around the Temple Mount and the pending eviction of Palestinian families in an east Jerusalem neighborhood.

The conflict represents the fourth major military campaign since Israel unilaterally pulled civilians and troops out of the seaside territory in 2005, and the first since 2014. There have also been smaller flareups in the intervening period, many of them halted after Egyptian mediation.

Nine Israelis have been killed by rocket fire and over 120 Gazans have been killed by Israeli bombs, according to officials on either side.

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