Israel and Hamas are considering a U.S.-backed proposal for a temporary cease-fire as the conflict in the Gaza Strip intensified and protests erupted among Palestinians in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
Israel’s cabinet met today to consider a week-long truce plan endorsed by U.S Secretary of State John Kerry. Channel 2 and other local media reported that ministers at the meeting unanimously rejected the current version of the proposal, and that negotiations continue.
Turkey and Qatar are also involved in efforts to elicit support from Hamas, the militant group that rules Gaza. The proposed truce would extend through next week’s Islamic holiday, halting the conflict that has killed more than 800 Palestinians and 35 Israeli soldiers, while Egypt brokers talks on a more lasting settlement.
As diplomats pushed for the deal, the fighting in Gaza sparked some of the biggest protests in years in the West Bank overnight. Palestinian officials say at least six protesters have been killed in clashes with security forces, which erupted 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 conflict deepened last week when the Israeli military added to its air bombardment by sending troops into Gaza, saying it aims to stop militants firing rockets into Israel and destroy tunnels they use to launch attacks. Israeli financial markets have been mostly unaffected by the conflict, with the benchmark stock index little changed since it escalated on July 8, and the shekel approaching a three-year high.
The Israeli army today 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 4,600 people have been injured.
Efforts to forge a deal were given impetus by yesterday’s artillery strike on a shelter run by the United Nations in northern Gaza, which killed 16 people including seven children, according to Ashraf al-Qedra, spokesman for the health ministry in Gaza .
It’s not clear who hit the refuge, which was based in a school in the town of Beit Hanoun. Chris Gunness, a spokesman for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency that operated it, said in an e-mailed statement that a team sent to survey the site today had to cut short its visit because of gunfire around the school.
Hamas’s armed wing said that it tried to strike the airport in Tel Aviv again today, 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.
Israel, like the U.S. and European Union, classifies Hamas as a terrorist organization, and says it uses civilians as human shields. 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 against. Israel criticized the move.
Elements of the truce deal under discussion include a proposal for Israel to remain in Gaza to continue its destruction of cross-border tunnels while Hamas negotiates with Egypt on new arrangements to open the strip’s border crossings, according to Israel Radio, which cited an unidentified Israeli official. Both Israel and Egypt restrict the movement of goods and people to and from Gaza, and Hamas says lifting the embargo is essential to a peace deal.
Hamas has agreed in principle to a temporary cease-fire, with conditions, the London-based Al Hayat newspaper reported today. The Islamist group spurned a truce proposal last week after Israel accepted it, saying the plan didn’t guarantee lifting the blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt on Gaza.