Israeli cabinet accepts Egypt's cease-fire plan moments before deadline

Moments later, a senior Hamas official said 'this proposal is not acceptable'

A Palestinian boy carries his belongings as he walks amongst the debris of a house which police said was hit by an Israeli air strike in Gaza City July 15, 2014.
Mohammed Salem/Reiters

Israel's cabinet has accepted an Egyptian proposal for a ceasefire to end a week of conflict in Gaza that has killed 189 Palestinians, but the Palestinian group Hamas responded with suspicion. 

The office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the cabinet met on Tuesday morning and accepted the proposal, which came into effect at 9:00 local time.

Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, said he valued Egyptian efforts and called on all parties to commit so as to preserve Palestinian blood.

The plan calls for a ceasefire to begin within 12 hours of "unconditional acceptance'' by all sides, followed by the opening of Gaza's border crossings and talks in Cairo within two days.

Hamas, the dominant group in Gaza, has acknowledged "diplomatic movement'' on ending the conflict without yet formally accepting the proposal.

A senior Hamas official, Sami Abu Zuhri, spoke moments after Israel accepted the offer on Tuesday, telling The Associated Press that "this proposal is not acceptable."

The group's armed wing, the Qassam Brigades, rejected the proposal, according to its official website.

The Qassam Brigades said on Tuesday that it had not been sent details about the "alleged initiative" from any side, "officially or unofficially."

President Barack Obama said he was "encouraged" by Egypt's proposal for a ceasefire. An aide to Secretary of State John Kerry said he would was not planning on flying to Cairo for the discussions. 

As of Tuesday morning, at least 189 Palestinians have been killed in the conflict, and the UN has said that at least 80 percent of the casualties have been civilians. 

At least 10 Israelis have been injured by rockets fired from Gaza. No Israeli fatalities have been recorded.

On Monday Israel missiles struck three training facilities of the Qassam Brigades, and Israel claimed to have downed what it said was a drone over a southern city.

Neither incident resulted in any fatalities, contrasting with the prior six days of shelling in Gaza, which claimed the lives of 172 Palestinians, many of them civilians.

Fearing further bloodshed, more than 17,000 residents were said to have fled the Gaza Strip’s northern cities in anticipation of a potential ground assault.

Click here for more coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Ahmad Gharabi/AFP/Getty Images

Concern over the worsening humanitarian situation prompted protests across the world over the weekend, with demonstrators taking to European capitals and Washington, among other cities, to demand an end to the bombardment. In France, gendarmes were deployed to protect a Parisian synagogue after a group tried to storm the building during a march in the capital.

Palestinians rallying in Jerusalem and the West Bank faced Israeli security forces, who shot and killed 22-year-old Munir Ahmad Badarin near Hebron early Monday, Palestinian news website Maan News reported. His was the first death in the West Bank since Israel’s latest offensive against Gaza began. Two other Palestinians were shot and wounded in Beit Ummar, near Hebron, according to local reports.

Over the weekend at least 36 people were arrested while demonstrating in Jerusalem and 23 in the West Bank, according to Israeli news website Haaretz.

The protests come a week after the current offensive began. In that time more than 800 homes in Gaza have been destroyed or damaged in the shelling.

Thousands of residents have fled their homes in advance of more airstrikes and a possible ground incursion.

On Monday along the Israel-Gaza border, there was no indication that such a troop offensive was about to be immediately launched — though tanks and encampments could be seen preparing should the order come. At least 36,000 Israeli reservists have been called up to report for duty.

More than 1,000 people have been injured since Israel launched Operation Protective Edge one week ago. Erik Fossa, a Swedish heart surgeon working in Gaza City’s Al-Shifa Hospital said that he worries that a ground war, especially a prolonged one, would overwhelm the hospital and that it would run out of equipment to treat patients. Medical supplies are already relatively scarce in the territory in part because of a seven-year blockade.

Every room at Al-Shifa is full of emergency patients who were injured in Israeli strikes over the past week. Fossa said that patients with chronic illnesses such as cancer are being pushed out to make room for more pressing injuries.

Two Gazans were killed in overnight strikes and 60 injured, it was reported Monday. But the aerial assault was not as severe as previous nights. Israeli warplanes and naval gunboats struck over 200 targets overnight, while armed groups in Gaza fired about 20 rockets into Israel.

Haaretz quoted Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon as saying on Monday that Israel “is continuing to pound Hamas and its infrastructure. The damage to Hamas and to other terror organizations in the Gaza Strip is severe … When Hamas leaders come out of their hiding places, they will discover the extent of the destruction and damage we have caused.”  

Hamas said that it sent a drone more than 37 miles into Israel to carry out “special missions.” According to an Israel Defense Forces statement, Israel shot down the drone with a U.S.-built Patriot missile as it flew along the Ashdod coastline. Shrapnel from a rocket fired at Ashdod lightly wounded an 8-year-old Israeli boy, Israeli media reported.

With the crisis showing few signs of abating, international diplomatic efforts to forge a cease-fire have begun.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday offered to help secure a truce between Israel and Gaza, and  U.S. and Egyptian officials subsequently indicated on Monday that he was planning a trip to the region in the hopes of securing a 48-hour pause in hostilities. 

Meanwhile, Egyptian media reported on Monday that Egypt had established the framework for a cease-fire agreement. An Israeli official told Reuters that Israel's security cabinet would meet Tuesday to discuss it. 

Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the second-most-powerful Gaza faction, said they would not accept “calm for calm.” “Netanyahu began this crazy war, and he must end his war first,” Hamas leader Izzat al-Reshiq told Al-Arabiya television. “There can be no cease fire unless the conditions of the resistance are met.”

Conditions include Israel¦s ending its siege of Gaza — which it maintains through a land, sea and air blockade on the occupied territory — and freeing hundreds of Palestinians it arrested in the West Bank last month during a crackdown on Hamas.

Netanyahu has repeatedly stated that he would not bow to international pressure and order an end to the bombardment.

Existing tensions between the two sides escalated last month after the disappearance of three Israeli settler teens. Israel blamed Hamas for the abduction — a claim Hamas has denied.

But in a subsequent crackdown, hundreds of its members were rounded up and at least six Palestinians killed during Israeli military raids.

After the boys’ bodies were found, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, a Palestinian teenager, was kidnapped and apparently burned alive in a suspected revenge attack. Three Israelis have reportedly confessed to the crime, and on Monday, Israel said it was preparing to file formal charges against them.

Mickey Rosenfeld, an Israeli police spokesman, said the suspects include a 29-year-old and two 17-year-olds who have admitted to abducting and killing Abu Khdeir, who was 16 at the time of his death, the New York Times reported. Rosenfeld said the three Israelis will be charged on Friday with kidnapping and premeditated murder.

With wire services and additional reporting by Al Jazeera’s Bernard Smith and John Hendren

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