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Last updated: November 19, 2012 7:08 pm
Egyptian efforts to end Israel’s Gaza offensive intensified on Monday, with a senior official in Cairo saying plans were being discussed for a two-stage ceasefire process and suggesting there were “encouraging signs” that Israel and Hamas were ready for a truce.
After discussions with both sides, a Egyptian official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Cairo was in talks with both Israeli and Palestinian negotiators on a ceasefire proposal that would include initial guarantees sponsored by Egypt followed by discussions of further commitments by both sides.
However, it remained far from clear that Cairo will be able to reconcile the conflicting conditions and expectations of the two sides.
There was no also sign that the firing was about to stop as Israel’s offensive entered its sixth day and the Palestinian death toll rose to at least 101, including 25 children. One Israeli missile hit a media centre in Gaza City on Monday, killing two Palestinians including a senior member of the Islamic jihad militant group. The army said it was targeting a “hide-out” used by militant fighters.
After a night of relative calm, Israeli towns again faced a barrage of rockets and missiles from Gaza. The Israeli military said at least 120 rockets and missiles were fired at Israel on Monday, taking the total since last Wednesday to 1,100.
On the diplomatic front, Egyptian mediators were joined by Qatari and Turkish officials in a scramble to restore calm and avoid the ground invasion of Gaza that Israel has been threatening to launch. In a fresh sign of tensions between the two former allies, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, branded Israel a “terrorist state” that was committing “terrorist acts”.
The leader of the Islamist Hamas group, which control the Gaza Strip, said his organisation was open to ending hostilities with Israel but warned that the Jewish state had to stop firing first.
Speaking to reporters in Cairo following intense talks with Egyptian officials over a possible truce, Khaled Meshaal lambasted Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, accusing him of launching the war for his own political ends. He warned of severe consequences should the Israeli armed forces launch a ground offensive into the Gaza strip.
“He who started this crazy war must be the one who stops it, and when that happens our terms [of ceasefire] will follow,” Mr Meshaal said. “We don’t want to escalate things. We are not reckless with our people like Netanyahu is. But if he decides to go to war with us that would be foolish of him and I assure you, he will regret it.”
In the 90-minute meeting with reporters, Mr Meshaal boasted of Hamas’ military prowess, and claimed that Israel was already seeking an exit from the conflict by asking emissaries to approach Egypt, Jordan and Qatar about peace negotiations.
The claim was immediately denied by Israel. One government official said: “There is no deal and we are continuing to target the Gaza strip.”
Israeli officials have said for several days that they are ready in principle to strike a ceasefire deal with Hamas, though they insist that any agreement must guarantee a durable calm for Israeli cities and villages exposed to rocket fire from Gaza. The government is also seeking additional safeguards, including a mechanism that would curb Hamas’s ability to replenish its missile arsenal and enhanced protection against attacks from militants based in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula.
Earlier yesterday, Hamas officials said Israel had demanded too much in exchange for a ceasefire. “Israel has set two conditions, one creating a buffer zone and a stop of arms shipments into Gaza that were rejected by us,” Mousa Abu Marzouq, Mr Mishaal’s deputy, told pan-Arab Al Arabiya television.
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