Israel made clear on Thursday that it wanted Egypt, not Qatar, to broker a cease-fire to put an end to Operation Protective Edge, which on Friday entered its 11th day.
“The Qatar cease-fire initiative is not on the table,” a senior Israeli official said.
He added that Israel wanted to see a cease-fire arrangement that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was involved in. If mediation is to work, it has to be clear that there is only one mediator, and Israel wants that to be Egypt, not Qatar.
The two countries with the closest ties to Hamas at this point are Qatar and Turkey, Qatar being a major financial backer. Qatar has a special relationship with Hamas, and is keen to be in the center of the negotiations.
Even amid the efforts to forge a cease-fire, Hamas fired many rockets at Israel on Thursday when a five-hour UN-brokered humanitarian pause in the fighting expired at 3 p.m.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu scheduled a security cabinet meeting for Friday morning.
Abbas, who is in Cairo for talks, was expected to hold another meeting with Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders on Friday to discuss a possible cease-fire deal, with Egyptian officials participating in the talks.
He was then scheduled to go to Ankara for talks with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Erdogan has been vitriolic in recent days in his criticism of Israel, saying on Thursday that Israel was seeking a “systematic genocide” of the Palestinians.
One PA official said that Abbas’s efforts to broker a ceasefire have been unsuccessful, and hinted that Qatar and Turkey have been exerting pressure on Hamas and Islamic Jihad to reject an Egyptian-brokered truce.
“Qatar and Turkey don’t want the Egyptian effort to succeed,” the official said.
Abbas met in Cairo with Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, and a statement following the meeting said the two men “agreed on the need to exert every effort possible to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip by working to open all the border crossings with Israel and ensuring free passage of individuals and goods.”
Meanwhile, an Israeli team – made up of Shin Bet (Israel Security Service) head Yoram Cohen, Amos Gilad, the head of the political bureau at the Defense Ministry and Israel’s principal interlocutor with Egypt, and Netanyahu’s adviser Yitzhak Molcho – returned from Cairo on Thursday after holding talks.
Soon after their return, Reuters quoted an Israeli official as saying that they had accepted an Egyptian proposal for a comprehensive cease-fire starting on Friday morning.
This was quickly shot down by Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, who in a video briefing with Israel’s ambassadors around the world said that these reports were “far from reflecting reality.”
According to the Egyptian daily Al-Youm as-Saba’a, Palestinian sources reported that Israeli and Hamas representatives were staying in a well-known hotel in Cairo and were shuttling back and forth between their rooms with proposals for a cessation of hostilities.
Egyptian officials relayed to the Israelis the conditions that Hamas has demanded be met before agreeing to a cease-fire:
• The opening of all crossings on the Gaza-Israel border;
• The permanent opening of the Rafah crossing that serves as the terminal between Gaza and Sinai in addition to international guarantees that it will not be closed;
• Permitting maritime access to Gaza;
• Permitting Gaza residents to pray at al-Aksa Mosque in Jerusalem;
• Releasing the terrorists who were freed in the Gilad Schalit deal but rearrested after the kidnapping and murder of three Jewish teens last month; and
• An Israeli commitment to honor an agreement that Egypt brokered regarding the treatment of Palestinian security prisoners in Israeli jails.
According to the report, Israel rejected Hamas’s demand for Gazan access to al-Aksa Mosque and the release of the Schalit prisoners.
Israeli officials said the issue of re-releasing the prisoners was “not up for discussion,” since it would harm the country’s security.
In the Gaza Strip, Hamas spokesman Ehab Ghussein denied a BBC report that a new cease-fire agreement has been reached in Cairo.
“There is nothing new until now regarding the truce,” he said.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri also denied the report.
He said that such reports are designed to “divert the attention of the international community from ongoing Israeli crimes,” and that Hamas has enough patience to “force Israel to accept all the Palestinian conditions” for a cease-fire.
Reuters contributed to this report.