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Palestinians drive past a building destroyed by an Israeli strike on Friday, in Gaza City, Sunday, July 13, 2014. Thousands of Palestinian residents of the northern Gaza Strip fled their homes on Sunday and sought safety in U.N. shelters, heeding warnings from the Israeli military about impending plans to bomb the area in the sixth day of an offensive against Hamas that has killed more than 160 people. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Egypt offers plan to end fighting in Gaza
Cease-fire » Israel’s Cabinet to discuss proposal early Tuesday, but one member says truce would show government’s weakness.
First Published Jul 14 2014 08:23 am • Last Updated Jul 14 2014 07:31 pm

Jerusalem • Egypt presented a cease-fire plan Monday to end a week of heavy fighting between Israel and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip that has left at least 185 people dead, and both sides said they were seriously considering the proposal.

The late-night offer by Egypt marked the first sign of a breakthrough in international efforts to end the conflict.

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Hamas’ top leader in Gaza confirmed there was "diplomatic movement," while Israel’s policy-making Security Cabinet was set to discuss the proposal early Tuesday. Arab foreign ministers discussed the plan Monday night at an emergency meeting in Cairo, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was expected in the region Tuesday.

Egypt’s Foreign Ministry announced the three-step plan starting at 9 a.m. (0600 GMT, 2 a.m. EDT) with a cease-fire to go into effect within 12 hours of "unconditional acceptance" by the two sides. That would be followed by the opening of Gaza’s border crossings and talks in Cairo between the sides within two days, according to the statement.

Gaza’s crossings should be opened for people and goods "once the security situation becomes stable," according to a copy of the proposal obtained by The Associated Press.

Israel launched the offensive July 8, saying it was a response to weeks of heavy rocket fire out of Hamas-ruled Gaza. The Health Ministry in Gaza said 185 people, including dozens of civilians, have been killed, and more than 1,000 people wounded.

There have been no Israelis killed, although several have been wounded by rocket shrapnel, including two sisters, ages 11 and 13, who were seriously hurt Monday. Ahead of the Egyptian announcement, there appeared to be no slowdown in the fighting, with Hamas for the first time launching an unmanned drone into Israeli airspace that was shot down.

The violence followed the kidnappings and killings of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank last month, as well as the subsequent kidnapping and killing of a Palestinian teenager in an apparent revenge attack, along with Israeli raids against Hamas militants and infrastructure in the West Bank.

Israeli officials have said the goal of the military campaign is to restore quiet to Israel’s south, which has absorbed hundreds of rocket strikes, and that any cease-fire would have to include guarantees of an extended period of calm.

Hamas officials say they will not accept "calm for calm." The group is demanding an easing of an Israeli-Egyptian blockade that has ground Gaza’s economy to a standstill and that Israel release dozens of prisoners who were arrested in a recent West Bank crackdown following the abductions of the Israeli youths.


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With the death toll mounting, both sides have come under increasing international pressure to halt the fighting.

Egypt Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri said there is "no alternative but return to the truce" of November 2012, and added that Egypt contacted all the parties, including the Palestinian leadership, different Palestinian factions, and Israeli authorities in addition to Arab and international parties. Such contacts led to shaping up the proposal which called for cease-fire.

"Egypt stresses the international responsibility toward what is happening in Palestine," he said.

In a speech broadcast on Al-Jazeera, Ismail Haniyeh, a Hamas leader in Gaza, confirmed there was "diplomatic movement."

"The problem is not going back to the agreement on calm because we want this aggression to stop," he said. "The siege must stop and Gaza people need to live in dignity."

An Israeli official said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would convene his Security Cabinet on Tuesday morning to discuss the proposal. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

Naftali Bennett, a member of the Security Cabinet, said he would oppose the proposal, calling it "good for Hamas and bad for Israel."

"A cease-fire at the present time shows the government’s weakness," he said in a statement. "A cease-fire now will create a bigger campaign against the south of the country and more rocket attacks in another year."

Egypt, the first Arab state to reach peace with Israel, often serves as a mediator between Israel and Hamas.

In the 2012 fighting, Egypt’s then-President Mohammed Morsi brokered a cease-fire, leveraging the influence his Muslim Brotherhood held with Hamas, its ally.

That deal included pledges to ease the blockade — promises that Hamas says were never kept. The blockade has greatly restricted movement through Gaza’s Rafah crossing with Egypt — the territory’s main gateway to the outside world — while Israel has restricted the flow of many goods, particularly much-needed construction materials, into Gaza. Israel says Hamas can use things like metal and concrete for military purposes.

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