CAIRO (AP) – Egypt presented a cease-fire plan Monday to end a week of heavy fighting between Israel and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip.
The proposal marked the most serious attempt yet by international mediators to end the conflict. A senior Hamas official said the group was open to the plan. Israel had no immediate reaction, but local media quoted officials as saying the government was considering it seriously.
Israel is demanding guarantees of an extended period of quiet, while Hamas seeks an easing of an Israeli-Egyptian blockade on Hamas-controlled Gaza.
Israel launched the offensive last Tuesday, saying it was a response to weeks of heavy rocket fire out of Hamas-ruled Gaza. Palestinian medical officials say 185 people, including dozens of civilians, have been killed. The Israelis have suffered no fatalities, thanks in large part to a new rocket-defense system that has intercepted dozens of incoming projectiles.
With the death toll mounting, both sides have come under increasing international pressure to halt the fighting.
Late Monday, Egypt’s Foreign Ministry announced a three-step plan starting with a temporary 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 2 days, according to the statement.
In a speech broadcast on Al-Jazeera, Ismail Haniyeh, a Hamas leader in Gaza, 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.”
Egypt, the first Arab state to reach peace with Israel, often serves as a mediator between Israel and Hamas.
In the 2012 fighting between Israel and Hamas, Egypt’s then-President Mohammed Morsi brokered a cease-fire, leveraging the influence his Muslim Brotherhood held with its ally Hamas.
The proposal was expected to be discussed at an Arab League meeting of foreign ministers later Monday. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and the German foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, are expected in the region on Tuesday as well.
A senior Hamas official said the group was studying the proposal, but signaled the group is open to the ideas. “We are not begging for a cease-fire, but at the same time, we are not going to reject any understanding that can change the current living conditions in Gaza.” He spoke on condition of anonymity because the group has not formally responded yet.
There was no formal response from Israel, but Israeli TV and radio stations said the country’s leaders were seriously considering the proposal.
Israel and Hamas battled for eight days in late 2012. An Egyptian-mediated truce included guarantees of quiet for Israel and an easing of the blockade. Hamas has complained that the conditions of the deal were not honored.
Hamas wants Egypt to open the Rafah border crossing to increased traffic, and for Israel to ease the flow of goods into Gaza.
Israel and Egypt imposed the blockade after Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007. Israel says the measures are needed to keep the group from importing arms into the seaside territory.