GAZA CITY/CAIRO: Israel kept up its air and naval bombardments of the Gaza Strip Monday as Egypt presented a cease-fire plan to end a week of heavy fighting that has left at least 185 Palestinians dead.
The announcement by Egypt, a mediator in past conflicts between Israel and the Palestinians, of the cease-fire to take effect at 06:00 GMT Tuesday came on the eve of a visit by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in which he was expected to throw his weight behind peace efforts. He is then expected to fly on to Qatar, a Western ally but one that maintains close relations with Hamas.
There was no immediate reaction from Israel. But the Security Cabinet was expected to meet Tuesday to discuss the proposal.
Hamas confirmed that efforts were underway to forge a truce like that which ended the last major Gaza conflict in 2012, but said no deal had yet been done.
“There are efforts and communications on the issue of a truce deal but until now there is nothing final,” a Hamas official said.
“Efforts are being made by various parties, particularly the Egyptians, but in a weak manner,” he added.
The Egyptian Foreign Ministry announced a three-step plan starting with a 12-hour cease-fire by the Israelis and Hamas that would take effect Tuesday morning. That would be followed by the opening of border crossings and talks in Cairo between the sides.
Egypt’s plan will mean Israel stops aerial, naval and ground operations against Gaza and promises not to launch a ground offensive or harm civilians, Haaretz reported.
The Israeli daily said if the deal is implemented then crossings between Gaza and Israel will be reopened, and restrictions on the passage of commodities and people will be eased, in return for calm in hostilities.The report added that “within 48 hours after the cease-fire, Israeli and Palestinian delegations will arrive in Cairo for continued indirect talks to discuss the details of the truce and its implementation. Egypt will receive guarantees from both sides, and promises to implement the outline.”
In a televised speech, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh confirmed that there was “diplomatic movement.” He said Hamas was seeking not only an end to the fighting, but also an easing of a blockade that has crippled life in Gaza.
“The problem is not going back to the agreement on calm because we want this aggression to stop,” he said. “The problem is the reality of Gaza, the siege, the starving, the bombing ... The siege must stop and Gaza people need to live in dignity.”
Arab League foreign ministers meeting in Cairo backed Egypt’s proposal.
In the latest bloodshed, an Israeli missile struck a motorcycle east of the south Gaza city of Khan Younis, killing 17-year-old Ziyad al-Najjar, emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said.
His death came shortly after another strike in the same area, which killed a 37-year-old who was standing with a group of men, Qudra said.
A 60-year-old man was killed in a raid on a house in Deir al-Balah in central Gaza, and two other people died in separate strikes elsewhere in the coastal enclave, he said in a statement.
In Gaza City’s Tel al-Hawa neighborhood, relatives of a retired economics professor in his 80s looked at the damage to his home, clearly bemused as to why it should have been targeted by an Israeli missile.
This time, the family escaped unharmed, fleeing after an initial warning strike. But the missile itself failed to explode, drawing a crowd of curious onlookers as officials wondered how to remove it.
Human rights groups say more than 75 percent of the dead have been non-combatants. The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees says more than a quarter of them have been children.
Al-Mezan, a Gaza-based Palestinian human rights group, said 869 Palestinian homes have been destroyed or damaged in Israeli attacks the past week.
No Israelis have been killed. A handful have been seriously wounded.
The rocket fire has since intensified, with Hamas militants launching more than 800 rockets at cities across Israel, including Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and the northern city of Hadera. A further 187 have been shot down.
Earlier, Hamas’ armed wing said it had sent “a number of UAVs [drones] deep inside the Zionist enemy entity” in a Hebrew posting on Twitter.
A military spokesman said the drone was shot down near the port of Ashdod, about 25 kilometers north of Gaza, by a U.S.-built Patriot missile, used largely ineffectively by Israel against Iraqi Scud missiles in the 1991 Gulf War.