December 20, 2014
Egypt proposes ceasefire as Israel-Palestine conflict continues
Egypt has launched an initiative to halt fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants, proposing a ceasefire to be followed by talks in Cairo on settling the conflict in which Gaza authorities say more than 170 people have died.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will convene his decision-making security cabinet on Tuesday to discuss the proposal on the Gaza violence, an Israeli official said.
The militants resumed rocket attacks on Tel Aviv on Monday after a 24-hour lull in strikes on the Israeli commercial capital, while Israel kept up its air and naval bombardments of the Gaza Strip despite the growing international pressure for a ceasefire.
Egypt's proposal, which would take effect at 0600 GMT tomorrow, calls for a ceasefire within 12 hours of that time, followed by negotiations between both sides in Cairo within 48 hours, the state news agency MENA said.
A foreign ministry spokesman told state television that Egypt would seek Arab backing for the initiative at an extraordinary meeting of the Arab League on Monday night.
Asked if there would be a ceasefire on Tuesday morning, an Egyptian official told Reuters: "We hope so."
"We are not at the negotiations stage yet. First the sides would cease fire and then each will send delegations to Egypt to discuss the terms," the official added.
So far the international calls for a ceasefire have had little effect and there were no immediate signs that the initiative by Egypt - which struck a peace treaty with Israel more than 30 years ago - would necessarily succeed.
However, the Israeli official seemed to put a positive face on the proposed truce, saying that Israel's week-old offensive in Gaza had weakened the Islamist Hamas group militarily.
Earlier, the Israeli military said it had shot down a drone from Gaza, which is sandwiched between Israeli and Egyptian territory. This marked the first reported deployment of an unmanned aircraft by Palestinian militants and a possible step up in the sophistication of their arsenal, although it was not clear whether it was armed.
Their rocket attacks have been regularly intercepted but more than half a dozen Israelis have been wounded since the start of the week-old offensive. Gaza health officials say Israeli air strikes have killed 180 Palestinians and wounded 1,390, most of them civilians, in the densely populated enclave.
Egyptian media said US Secretary of State John Kerry was due in Cairo on Tuesday for talks on the Gaza situation. There was no immediate US confirmation of the report.
The European Union said it was in touch with "all parties in the region" to press for an immediate halt to the hostilities, the worst flare-up of Israeli-Palestinian violence for almost two years.
Two members of Netanyahu's security cabinet suggested a truce might be in the works. "There are contacts all the time," Communications Minister Gilad Erdan said when asked about the possibility of Kerry visiting Cairo.
Economics Minister Naftali Bennett said in remarks on Channel 2 television "all options are on the table," though the far-right leader said the fighting could also go on.
The violence was prompted by the murder of three Israeli teenagers and revenge killing of a Palestinian youth. Israeli officials said today three people arrested over the Palestinian's death had confessed to burning him alive.
Peace efforts have been complicated by Hamas's rejection of a mere "calm for calm", in which both sides hold their fire, in favour of wider conditions including prisoner release and an end to Israel's Gaza blockade.
The Israeli army said its aircraft and naval gunboats attacked dozens of targets in Gaza on Monday and that Palestinian militants fired 115 rockets into Israel, wounding a boy in the port city of Ashdod, where a home was damaged, and two girls, 11 and 13, near Beersheba.
Palestinian health officials said at least 20 people in the Gaza Strip were wounded.