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.
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 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.
The United States welcomed the cease-fire plan. White House spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said the U.S. hopes the plan will lead to calm being restored as soon as possible and that escalation won't benefit Israelis or Palestinians.
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 Israeli military said that three rockets were fired at the southern city of Eilat early Tuesday morning, lightly injuring two people and sparking a fire. The military said it did not immediately know who was behind the rocket fire. Previous rocket attacks on Eilat were from radical Islamic militants in the neighboring Sinai Peninsula.
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.
An Israeli official said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would convene his Security Cabinet this morning to discuss the proposal.