Israel accepted Egypt’s proposal to halt its week-long battle with Gaza Strip militants and warned it would broaden its offensive if armed groups didn’t hold their fire. Palestinian groups responded to the truce call by barraging Israel with rockets.
Hamas, the militant movement that controls Gaza, said it wasn’t consulted on the plan, and gave conflicting responses ranging from outright rejection to a statement saying it was being debated. Israeli stocks gained and the shekel strengthened on news of the cease-fire.
Israel accepted Egypt’s proposal to give diplomacy a chance to demilitarize Gaza, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a text message. “But if Hamas doesn’t accept the truce proposal -- and that’s how it looks now -- Israel will have the international legitimacy to broaden the military offensive.”
Israel halted weeks of air strikes against Gaza rocket squads days after the government issued call-up orders to 38,000 reservists for a possible ground invasion. At least 192 Palestinians have died, including dozens of children and civilians, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. A tourist in Jerusalem died of a heart attack during an air raid.
Hamas’s military wing issued a leaflet in the Gaza Strip rejecting the Egyptian plan, calling it an “initiative of subordination and submission.” Shortly after, hails of rockets were fired at Israel, including 10 in a single barrage, Channel 2 TV reported. The military had no response when asked if it had responded to the fire.
Hamas political spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said by phone that the group hasn’t officially “received any initiative from anyone” and rejected “ceasing fire before reaching an agreement.” A senior Hamas leader, Mussa Abu Marzuk, was quoted by the Hamas-run Al-Rai news outlet as saying that “we are still weighing and debating the initiative.”
A spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Liran Dan, told Israel Radio “if there is a need, we will respond.”
Israel’s benchmark TA-25 index for stocks gained 0.3 percent at 11:59 a.m. The shekel reached its strongest since August 2011 on the truce news, at 3.4049 to the dollar.
Israel has carried out 1,600 air strikes in the past eight days, after rocket fire from Gaza intensified, according to the military. More than 1,000 rockets were fired at Israel during that time.
The Egyptian plan envisages a cease-fire today followed 48 hours later by separate talks with Israeli and Palestinian delegations in Cairo. It includes a provision that Gaza’s border crossings will be opened for both people and goods “once the security situation becomes stable on the ground.”
Hamas’s political leader, Ismail Haniyeh, said in a televised address late yesterday that any accord would have to improve the “miserable reality” of life in Gaza.
Hamas “isn’t going to take a negotiated settlement without major concessions from the Israelis,” said Theodore Karasik, director of research at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis in Dubai. “This, maybe, will be a lull in the situation, but I think there’s been plenty of blood spilled to warrant some caution as negotiations proceed.”
Former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren said Netanyahu “may have to pay a political price” for accepting the truce offer. The prime minister, Oren said, “is coming under very strident criticism, not only from the right-wing members of his coalition, but his own party.”
The violence has expanded to other fronts, with rockets being fired at Israel from Syria and Lebanon, and overnight, for the first time during this round of fighting, from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Two rockets landed in the southern city of Eilat, causing no injuries, the military said.
Gaza has become a frequent battleground since Israel evacuated it in 2005 after a 38-year occupation while imposing, together with Egypt, restrictions on the movement of people and goods to and from the coastal strip. Two previous offensives since 2009 have only temporarily quashed rocket fire. Israel, the U.S. and European Union consider Hamas a terrorist organization.