Inner cabinet meets to talk possible Gaza truce

Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal says Israel must initiate cease-fire; US President Barack Obama speaks with Egypt's Morsi and PM Netanyahu on how to move forward; UN's Ban arrives in Cairo.

Prime Minister Biyamin Netanyahu at cabinet meeting 370 (R) (photo credit: Kobi Gideon / GPO)
Prime Minister Biyamin Netanyahu at cabinet meeting 370 (R)
(photo credit: Kobi Gideon / GPO)
Israel’s diplomatic and security cabinet met late Monday night to discuss the latest cease-fire initiatives with Hamas, as international leaders continued to press for an end to the hostilities in Gaza.
The government agreed to briefly hold off on sending ground forces into Gaza in order to allow time for cease-fire efforts in Cairo to continue, an Israeli official told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.
“Israel prefers a diplomatic solution,” the official said, but added that any agreement must provide a real solution that would erase the threat of rocket attacks against the South.
If such a diplomatic solution is not found, then Israel is preparing its ground forces to enter Gaza, the official said.
US President Barack Obama called Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi to underscore the necessity of ending Hamas rocket fire into Israel, and to talk about ways to de-escalate the situation.
He also spoke with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, his third conversation with the prime minister since Operation Pillar of Defense was launched last Wednesday.
In both calls, Obama said he regretted the loss of Israeli and Palestinian lives.
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In the middle of the afternoon, it appeared that Hamas and Israel were close to a deal, and that Hamas and Islamic Jihad had made a cease-fire offer to Israel.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon arrived in Cairo on Monday, in hopes of helping both sides reach a cease-fire deal. He is expected to arrive in Jerusalem on Tuesday.
Mashaal: Netanyahu, not Hamas asked for a cease-fire
Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal claimed on Monday that Netanyahu had asked for a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip.
“Netanyahu was the one who requested a cease-fire from the Americans, Egypt and the Europeans,” Mashaal told reporters in Cairo. “We were not the ones to ask for a ceasefire.”
Addressing Netanyahu, the Hamas leader said, “Gaza is not the weak chapter for your adventures.
Gaza won’t be a testing ground for you. He who started the war should end it. This is the position of the political and military [Hamas] leadership.”
Mashaal boasted that Hamas and other armed groups in the Gaza Strip managed to achieve a balance of power with Israel within 48 hours after the assassination of Ahmed Jabari, the commander of Hamas’s armed wing, Izzadin Kassam.
Mashaal accused Netanyahu of ordering the IDF to target Hamas-affiliated institutions and media outlets “to cover up for his crimes,” and said that while Netanyahu had succeeded in killing Jabari, “he has failed to restore his army’s deterrence capability.”
An official in the Prime Minister’s Office denied Mashaal’s claim that Netanyahu had asked for a cease-fire.
“We have been hitting Hamas very hard,” the official said.
He explained that Israel had attacked Hamas’s weapons arsenal, leadership, buildings and communication apparatus from the air.
“Hamas is under a lot of pressure and as a result, they are saying many things that are in no way connected to reality,” he said.
In Monday’s speech, Mashaal warned Israel against launching a ground offensive on the Gaza Strip, adding that such a move would be “idiotic.” The ground war would not be a picnic, he cautioned.
“Rather, it will bury Netanyahu politically. We are not afraid of a ground war. If the enemy launches a ground attack, we will face it with courage,” the Hamas leader said.
Mashaal said that discussions to achieve a cease-fire were continuing, “but Hamas won’t succumb to Israel’s conditions.”
Hamas, he pointed out, was not opposed to a truce and is continuing to insist on the need to lift the blockade on the Gaza Strip and halt Israeli military strikes.
“Netanyahu wants to negotiate with us with gunfire in order to impose his conditions on us,” Mashaal said.
He also criticized the US administration, accusing it of double standards in dealing with the current conflict.
“What kind of a logic is this that says that Israel alone has the right to self-defense?” Mashaal asked.
Ezat Risheq, a senior Hamas official, said Monday that his movement would not accept a cease-fire “at any price.” He claimed that Israel was in a state of “panic” because of the response of the Palestinian armed groups to the killing of Jabari.
Risheq said Hamas’s conditions for accepting a cease-fire were the lifting of the blockade and international assurances that Israel would stop its military operations in the future.
Israel, in turn, wants a security zone around the Gaza border and an end to the smuggling of weapons into the Strip.
Peres praises Morsi for cease-fire efforts
Quartet special envoy Tony Blair told President Shimon Peres that Egypt, Qatar, America and the UN were working to put in place a cease-fire.
Peres said that he appreciated efforts by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi to end the hostilities.
“Egypt is a significant player in the Middle East. Strangely, it is Hamas that doesn’t listen to the Egyptian president,” he said.
Peres accused Iran of pressuring Hamas to continue the conflict, saying that Tehran is supplying Hamas “with arms, training them and sending them money.”
On Monday night, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle arrived in Israel on Monday night, where he met with Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, before heading to Ramallah to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
On Sunday, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius similarly held meetings in Jerusalem and Ramallah to discuss the options for a Gaza cease-fire.
Russia on Monday urged an end to Palestinian rocket attacks and what it called disproportionate Israeli bombing of the Gaza Strip, and said it may propose a UN Security Council resolution on the conflict.
“We again affirm our position on the inadmissibility of firing at Israeli regions and of disproportionate strikes on Gaza,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “Moscow considers it necessary to stop the military confrontation without delay.”
Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said Moscow may propose a Security Council resolution that would envisage ceasing violence on both sides before the resumption of peace talks, news agencies reported.
Turkey's Erdogan accuses Israel of terrorism
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan accused Israel on Monday of carrying out “terrorist acts” in its bombardment of Gaza.
“Those who associate Islam with terrorism close their eyes in the face of mass killing of Muslims, turn their heads from the massacre of children in Gaza,” Erdogan told a conference of the Eurasian Islamic Council in Istanbul.
“For this reason, I say that Israel is a terrorist state, and its acts are terrorist acts.”
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davuloglu is expected to visit Gaza this week, possibly as early as Tuesday.
Reuters contributed to this report.