CAIRO: Hamas demanded changes Wednesday to an Egyptian proposal to end the deadly conflict with Israel in and around the Gaza Strip, a Palestinian official said.
Hamas’ demand came as the Palestinian death toll from Israel’s punishing air campaign, now in its ninth day, rose to 220 people after the Islamist movement snubbed the truce plan on Tuesday even though it was briefly respected by Israel.
Hamas deputy leader Mussa Abu Marzuq met Egyptian officials in Cairo and set out the changes being sought, said Azzam al-Ahmad, a senior figure in Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement.
“ Hamas has rejected the proposal in its current form and demanded additions, such as applying the 2012 agreement concerning border crossings with Israel, and demanded the right for fishing up to 12 miles into the sea,” Ahmad told reporters in Cairo.
Senior Hamas official Ghazi Hamad told AFP in Gaza City that the Egyptian plan was rejected “in its current form” and that Hamas had notified Egypt of the changes it was seeking. “The initiative should include clear wording on fully lifting the blockade on Gaza, including opening all the crossings, and releasing the re-arrested prisoners from the [Gilad] Shalit deal in the West Bank,” Hamad said.
He was referring to a 2011 deal under which Shalit, an Israeli soldier held by Gaza militants for more than five years, was freed in exchange for scores of Palestinian prisoners.
Earlier this week, Egypt proposed a cease-fire to start Tuesday morning and be followed by talks on easing the flow of goods into Gaza.
Israel initially accepted the Egyptian initiative, but later intensified its airstrikes aimed at stamping out rocket fire by Gaza militants after Hamas rejected the plan.
Another Palestinian official said that Hamas and other factions were objecting to the term “hostilities” in the Egyptian initiative, complaining that “what they are doing is self-defense and resisting the occupation, but what the occupation is doing is aggression.”
He said he hoped there would be “meetings between Egypt and the factions as soon as possible to adjust the wording of the initiative and get to a cease-fire.”
The Palestinian president flew into Cairo Wednesday to join the diplomatic efforts for an end to the violence. He met with Abu Marzuq before separately scheduled meetings with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri and Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi.
He was due to meet President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi Thursday.
As the diplomatic wrangling went on, Israel intensified its bombardment of Gaza, killing four children on a beach in an apparent naval salvo and launching deadly airstrikes.
Israel’s campaign, now in its ninth day, has killed 220 Palestinians, with a Gaza-based human rights group saying over 80 percent of them have been civilians.
In the same period, militants have fired over 1,200 rockets at Israel, with one reported Israeli fatality.
On Wednesday afternoon, medics said that four children were killed and several wounded in an Israeli naval bombardment of a beach in Gaza City.
The first Israeli strike prompted terrified children and adults on the beach to scatter. A second and third struck as they ran, setting fire to huts on the beach.
The strikes appeared to be the result of shelling by the Israeli navy against an area with small shacks used by fishermen.
Several children ran inside a hotel where AFP journalists saw at least three with shrapnel injuries.
They were evacuated by ambulances, which also picked up more injured people from the beach, including a man who had part of his leg torn off. The four bodies were later taken to Abu Hasira Mosque, near where the boys had died.
The boys, all from the Bakr family, were laid out, wrapped in the yellow flags of the Fatah party, in front of mourners.
The army said the killing appeared to be the “tragic outcome” of an Israeli strike targeting Hamas militants. “Based on preliminary results the target of this strike was Hamas terrorist operatives,” the military said in a statement. “The reported civilian casualties from this strike are a tragic outcome.”
The military has also dropped flyers and sent text messages warning 100,000 people in northeastern Gaza to evacuate their homes ahead of an air campaign targeting “terror sites and operatives” in Zeitun and Shejaiya, two flashpoint districts east of Gaza City.
An identical message was sent to Beit Lahiya in the north, echoing a similar army warning on Sunday, when more than 17,000 residents of the north fled for their lives, most seeking refuge in UN-run schools.
Hamas dismissed the warning as a scare tactic, telling residents there was “no need to worry.”
The Israeli Security Cabinet authorized the call-up of another 8,000 reservists, media reports said, joining 43,000 reserve troops who have already been mobilized.