A high-level Egyptian delegation arrived in the Gaza Strip on Friday for talks with Hamas leaders on ways of ending the current round of fighting with Israel.

Egyptian Prime Minister Hesham Kandil was heading the delegation, which consists of a number of cabinet ministers, announced Taher a-Nunu, spokesman for the Hamas government.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu agreed to an Egyptian request to "cease all offensive operations" during the visit, a senior government official said, on the condition Hamas held its fire.

This visit marked the first to the Gaza Strip by an Egyptian prime minister.

Nunu expressed appreciation for Cairo’s decision to dispatch the delegation, saying that the planned visit “reflected Egypt’s brave stance toward the conflict.”

Kandil’s visit to Gaza is seen in the context of Egypt’s efforts to achieve a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel.

The visit comes as some Hamas officials in the Gaza Strip expressed disappointment over Egypt’s “mild response to the Israeli aggression.”

The officials said that they were expecting Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi to take a tougher stance toward the conflict.

“Recalling the ambassador is just a symbolic act,” said one official, referring to Cairo’s decision to recall its ambassador to Israel for consultations.

“We were expecting Morsi to at least threaten to cut off diplomatic ties with Israel.”

Meanwhile, defiant Hamas leaders continued to issue threats against Israel in response to Wednesday’s targeted killing of Ahmed Jabari, the commander of the movement’s armed wing, Izzadin Kassam Brigades.

Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman for Hamas, denied that his movement had asked the Egyptians to broker a cease-fire with Israel.

Barhoum said that the talk about a possible cease-fire was a “new Israeli trick” and that Hamas was determined to foil Israel’s “goals” against the movement and the Gaza Strip.

He said that Hamas’s response to the IDF strikes were aimed at “setting new features for the nature of the conflict [with Israel].” Israel, Barhoum added, is “living under an illusion if it thinks that it would be able to weaken Hamas and the resistance.”

Abu Obaida, spokesman for Hamas’s armed wing, said that the coming days would be more difficult for Israel.

He vowed that his group would continue to launch rockets and missiles “at the heart of occupied Palestine.”

Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has decided to cut short his current tour of a number of EU countries and return to Ramallah in light of the Hamas-Israel confrontation.

A PA official accompanying Abbas on his visit to Switzerland said that the PA president was “following the developments in the Gaza Strip and making efforts to put pressure on Israel to halt its aggression.”

Abbas was also scheduled to visit France as part of his efforts to rally support for his plan to ask the UN later this month to upgrade the status of “Palestine” to a non-member observer state.

The PA president also called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the IDF operation in the Gaza Strip.

In a televised address made earlier on Thursday, before the announcement that Egypt planned to send a delegation to Gaza, Morsi condemned Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip as unacceptable, in his harshest public criticism of Israel since taking office in June.

Looking more subdued and downcast than in previous speeches, Morsi appeared ill at ease as he listed steps he had taken to recall Egypt’s ambassador to Israel and appeal to the United Nations Security Council.

“We are in contact with the people of Gaza and with Palestinians and we stand by them until we stop the aggression,” he said. “The Israelis must realize that this aggression is unacceptable and would only lead to instability in the region.”

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It was the first time Morsi mentioned Israel by name in a public address.

Egyptian daily Al-Masry al- Youm also reported Thursday that Morsi had held an “expanded meeting” to discuss the repercussions of Israel’s strikes on Gaza.

Those present included Kandil, Minister of Defense and Military Production Col.- Gen. Abdul Fatah al-Sisi and Interior Minister Ahmed Gamal Eddin, the report said.

Egyptian political parties also moved to condemn Israel’s strikes on Gaza.

Egypt’s Salafist Nour party published a statement slamming the attacks and calling on Morsi to “take additional steps to deter the aggressor.”

The party said that it planned to give financial and manpower support to Palestinians in Gaza “until all their rights are achieved.”

Nour also offered its condolences to the Palestinian people for the deaths of Jabari and others.

The Nour party, whose stated goal is applying Shari’a (Islamic) law in all aspects of life, urges Egyptians to follow Islam as practiced by the prophet Muhammad, and aims at “reforming people’s lives according to the Koran and Sunnah [the practice of prophet Muhammad],” Hammad told the BBC last year.

According to the Egyptian daily Al-Ahram, the official spokesman for Nour also called for weapons to be sent to Gaza to increase the military strength of Hamas.

“I know very well that Israel only understands the language of force,” Yosri Hammad said on his personal Facebook page, according to Al-Ahram.

Hammad also criticized Morsi’s move to withdraw Egypt’s ambassador from Israel and to expel the Israeli ambassador from Egypt, saying it was “insufficient.”

The Nour spokesman added that the timing of the Israeli attacks indicated a scheme to pressure Gazans to flood into Sinai, and take advantage of Egypt’s weak security in the peninsula.

Meanwhile, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, from which Morsi hails, called for mass protests on Thursday and Friday in response to the Gaza strikes, which it said were a result of Israel’s “criminal aggression,” the Al-Ahram daily reported.

Saad al-Katatni, the chairman of the Brotherhood’s political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, said on Twitter late Wednesday that the Egyptian people “would not accept” the violence against Gaza.

Presumably referring to Morsi’s election as president, Katatni added that Israel had not yet understood that Egypt had changed.

In its calls on Thursday or its statement condemning Israel on Wednesday, the Brotherhood did not make any reference to the rockets fired from Gaza at Israel.

Although Morsi has pledged to respect a three decade-old Camp David peace treaty that ended a succession of wars with Israel, there have been growing calls in Egypt to amend the treaty.

One of the most outspoken and powerful advocates of amending the peace treaty is Morsi’s adviser Muhammad Esmat Seif El-Dawla, who has argued that Israel could reoccupy Sinai unless the treaty is altered to allow Egypt greater military presence in the peninsula.

Questions over Egypt’s ability to properly control Sinai were raised again on Wednesday, after Israel’s Channel 10 reported that four rockets that hit the Negev appeared to have been fired from Rafah in Sinai and not from Gaza.

On Thursday afternoon, Al- Ahram reported that the Egyptian Second Army was preparing to deal with “any emergency events” in Sinai as a result of Israeli air strikes on areas of Gaza near the Sinai border.

The report cited unnamed high-level security sources as saying that the army had put in place measures to deal with “any acts aimed at the border,” and that border guards had increased their presence near the Israeli border in accordance with instructions issued by their commanding officers on Wednesday.

Military hospitals in Sinai were also standing by, ready to cope with anyone injured near the border, the report said. •

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