U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the search for a lasting cease-fire in Gaza will extend into the weekend, as Israel and Hamas signaled readiness to halt hostilities for 12 hours.
Kerry said mediators want the initial pause to build into a weeklong truce for the Islamic Eid festival, an idea he said hasn't been made final. Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu "has indicated his willingness to do that as a good-faith down payment to move forward," Kerry said, speaking late yesterday at a press conference in Cairo.
Hamas, the Islamist organization that rules Gaza, has also agreed to a 12-hour humanitarian cease-fire starting at 7 a.m. today, according to the group's news agency al-Ray and pro-Hamas TV station al-Aqsa.
Neither side has agreed to Kerry's plan for a weeklong cease-fire during which talks on a durable settlement can get under way. While the "basic outline" is accepted on all sides, Kerry said, there are still problems of "terminology and context of the framework." He said he'll continue the pursuit today from Paris, where foreign ministers from European Union nations and Hamas allies Qatar and Turkey are due to join negotiations.
Susan Rice, President Barack Obama's national security adviser, told reporters at the White House that a 12-hour pause "would be a very modest initial step" and that "in some ways, I'm more skeptical of these very short cease-fires."
The conflict between Israel and Hamas has left more than 860 Palestinians and 35 Israeli soldiers dead since it escalated on July 8. There have been earlier humanitarian pauses during that period, for injured people to be moved or civilians to replenish supplies. Protests spread to the West Bank late on July 24, and several Palestinian demonstrators were killed in clashes with Israeli security forces.
Channel 2 and other Israeli media said that ministers at a security cabinet meeting late yesterday weren't satisfied with the latest shape of Kerry's broader plan. Kerry, at the press conference, said no formal proposals have been submitted, and declined to disclose the sticking points.
The Ynet news website reported, without saying where it got the information, that during a 12-hour halt Israel will continue to destroy tunnels used by Hamas militants to launch raids into the Jewish state but won't initiate fire. It also cited Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon as telling the army to be ready to "significantly expand the ground offensive in Gaza very soon."
Israel says its military offensive aims to end the barrage of rockets fired at its towns from Gaza, and destroy the tunnels. Hamas says the economic embargo on the territory must end as part of any accord. Egypt, which has mediated past conflicts, is working with Kerry to broker a deal.
Israel, like the U.S. and European Union, classifies Hamas as a terrorist organization.
Palestinian officials have said they're planning to take charges of Israeli war crimes to the International Criminal Court. The UN Human Rights Council this week voted to probe possible Israeli war crimes, with only the U.S. voting no. Israel criticized the council's move.
Some of the biggest protests in years have broken out in the West Bank, to express sympathy for the people of Gaza. The territory is controlled by the Palestinian Fatah group, which recently reconciled with Hamas after a seven-year rift.
Palestinian officials said at least six protesters have been killed in clashes with security forces in Hebron, Nablus and the Qalandia checkpoint with tires burned and rocks hurled at border guards, according to Israeli news service Ynet. Israeli police have confirmed one death.
The latest Gaza conflict, the third in six years, deepened last week when the Israeli military added to its air bombardment by sending troops into the territory. Israeli financial markets have been mostly unaffected, with the benchmark stock index little changed since fighting escalated on July 8, and the shekel approaching a three-year high.
The Israeli army yesterday increased its figures for military deaths to include Oron Shaul, a sergeant whom Hamas had earlier said it had captured. Three civilians have also been killed in Israel. Palestinian health officials say most of their dead are civilians, while more than 5,700 people have been injured.
Hamas's armed wing said that it tried to strike the airport in Tel Aviv again yesterday, after international airlines this week temporarily suspended flights citing security concerns. Israel's army said its Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepted two rockets fired at the Tel Aviv area, and had no reports of injuries or damage.