GAZA/ OCCUPIED JERUSALEM — Israel bombed dozens of targets in the Gaza Strip on Monday and said that while it was prepared to step up its offensive by sending in troops, it preferred a diplomatic solution that would end Palestinian rocket fire, Reuters reported.
Meanwhile, the Israeli Cabinet met late on Monday to discuss an Egyptian plan for ending six days of Gaza violence that has claimed more than 100 lives, a senior government official said, quoted by Agence France-Presse.
The official refused to identify the points of Egypt’s proposal, which emerged following a full day of indirect negotiations in Cairo on Sunday between Israeli officials and Palestinian representatives.
Israeli public radio, however, said Israel wanted to see a 24- to 48-hour truce take effect that could then be used to negotiate the finer details of the full ceasefire agreement.
The radio report also noted that most army attacks on Gaza had halted some two to three hours before the start of the Cabinet meeting.
There was no immediate indication on whether a firm decision on Egypt’s proposal would emerge from Monday’s meeting.
Reuters reported that Egypt said a deal for a truce to end the fighting could be close. The leader of Hamas said it was up to Israel to end the new conflict it had started, while Israel says its strikes are to halt Palestinian rocket attacks.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, touring the region in hopes of helping broker a peace arrived in Cairo, where he met Egypt’s foreign minister in preparation for talks with President Mohamed Morsi, on Tuesday. He also plans to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem.
Israeli attacks on the sixth day of fighting raised the number of Palestinian dead to 101, the Hamas-run health ministry said, listing 24 children among them.
Hospital officials in Gaza said more than half of those killed were non-combatants. Three Israeli civilians died on Thursday in a rocket strike.
Fighters in the Gaza Strip fired 110 rockets at southern Israel on Monday, causing no casualties, Israel said.
For the second straight day, Israeli missiles blasted a tower block in the city of Gaza housing international media. Two people were killed there, one of them an Islamic Jihad fighter.
Khaled Mishaal, exiled leader of Hamas, said a truce was possible but the Islamist group, in charge of the Gaza Strip since 2007, would not accept Israeli demands and wanted Israel to halt its strikes first and lift its blockade of the enclave.
“Whoever started the war must end it,” he told a news conference in Cairo, adding that Netanyahu, who faces an election in January, had asked for a truce, an assertion a senior Israeli official described as untrue.
Mishaal said Netanyahu feared the domestic consequences of a “land war” of the kind Israel launched four years ago: “He can do it, but he knows that it will not be a picnic and that it could be his political death and cost him the elections.”
For Israel, Vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon has said that “if there is quiet in the south and no rockets and missiles are fired at Israel’s citizens, nor terrorist attacks engineered from the Gaza Strip, we will not attack”.
Yaalon also said Israel wanted an end to Gaza guerrilla activity in the neighbouring Egyptian Sinai Peninsula, Reuters reported.
Although 84 per cent of Israelis supported the current Gaza assault, according to a poll by Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, only 30 per cent wanted an invasion, while 19 per cent wanted their government to work on securing a truce soon.
“Israel is prepared and has taken steps, and is ready for a ground incursion which will deal severely with the Hamas military machine,” a senior official close to Netanyahu told Reuters.
“We would prefer to see a diplomatic solution that would guarantee the peace for Israel’s population in the south. If that is possible, then a ground operation would no longer be required. If diplomacy fails, we may well have no alternative but to send in ground forces,” he added.
Egypt is acting as a mediator in the biggest test yet of Cairo’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel since the fall of Hosni Mubarak.
“I think we are close, but the nature of this kind of negotiation, [means] it is very difficult to predict,” Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Qandil, who visited Gaza on Friday in a show of support for its people, said in an interview in Cairo for the Reuters Middle East Investment Summit.
Egypt has been hosting leaders of both Hamas and Islamic Jihad, a smaller armed faction.
Israeli media said a delegation from Israel had also been to Cairo for truce talks. A spokesperson for Netanyahu’s government declined comment on the matter.
Egypt’s foreign minister, who met UN chief Ban on Monday, is expected to visit Gaza on Tuesday with a delegation of Arab ministers.
On the ground, thousands turned out on Gaza’s streets to mourn four children and five women, among 11 people killed in an Israeli strike that flattened a three-storey home the previous day.
The deaths of the 11 in an air strike drew more international calls for an end to six days of hostilities and could test Western support for an offensive Israel claimed was self-defence after years of cross-border rocket attacks.
Israel said it was investigating its air strike that brought the home crashing down on the Al Dallu family, where the dead spanned four generations.