(CNSNews.com) – Israel’s security cabinet agreed early Tuesday to accept an Egyptian proposal for a ceasefire to end a week of fighting between Israel’s armed forces and Hamas, but the radical Palestinian group which controls the Gaza Strip looked unlikely to follow suit.
Two hours after the cabinet decision at 9 AM, the Israeli military issued a statement saying, “Israel’s leadership has directed our forces to suspend strikes in Gaza. We remain prepared to respond to Hamas attacks and defend Israel.”
But Hamas’ military wing, the Izzadin al-Qassam Brigades, said the Egyptian initiative amounted to “surrender” and was unacceptable.
President Obama on Monday night welcomed the Egyptian plan, telling a Ramadan iftar dinner at the White House that “further escalation benefits no-one, least of all the Israeli and the Palestinian people.”
Secretary of State John Kerry had been planning to fly to Cairo from Vienna to push the initiative ahead, but U.S. officials said early Tuesday he would no longer do so.
According to the Hamas-run health ministry 185 people have been killed in Gaza over the past week. Despite the loss of life, Hamas officials were quoted Monday as saying their organization would not accept an agreement that merely ended the fighting.
Instead the group would insist on other measures too, including an easing of Israel’s security blockade on Gaza and the release of Palestinians arrested during a Israeli hunt for three missing teenagers, whose bodies were found in the West Bank two weeks ago.
“Any ceasefire must be based on the conditions we have outlined, nothing less than that will be accepted,” Hamas official Mushir al-Masri told the French news agency AFP, adding that Hamas otherwise was ready for a “long, drawn-out battle.”
Egyptian President Abdul Fattah el-Sisi’s government, unlike its predecessor, is not a Hamas ally and so has less leverage with the Palestinian group. The former Muslim Brotherhood government brokered a ceasefire deal after a previous round of violence between Israel and Hamas – eight days of fighting in Nov. 2012, also triggered by an escalation of rocket attacks from Gaza.
The current violence has seen at least 1,081 rockets fired from Gaza since July 8, of which 845 landed in Israel and around 191 was intercepted by Israel’s missile defense system, according to the Israel Defense Forces. Over that same period the IDF says it has hit more than 1,500 targets identified as being used by Hamas and other extremist groups “for military purposes.”
Egypt’s ceasefire proposal came as Arab League foreign ministers were holding urgent talks in Cairo, where they demanded that Israel immediately stop what they termed its “aggressions” in Gaza and called for international intervention.
Before the meeting was closed to the press, Arab League head Nabil Al-Arabi accused Israel of committing “war crimes.”
At the White House iftar, attended by administration officials and American Muslim representatives, Obama acknowledged that Americans were divided over the issue, but expressed clear support for Israel’s right to respond to rocket attacks.
“People here in the United States care deeply about what’s happening there and I know there are strong views as well as differences about how we should move forward – which is part of American democracy, we welcome that debate,” he said.
“I will say very clearly, no country can accept rockets fired indiscriminately at citizens. And so we’ve been very clear that Israel has the right to defend itself against what I consider to be inexcusable attacks from Hamas.”
At the same time, Obama said that “the death and injury of Palestinians is a tragedy, which is why we’ve emphasized the need to protect civilians, regardless of who they are or where they live.”
The president also made a bid, again, for a broader peace agreement. His administration’s last push, a nine-month initiative spearheaded by Kerry, collapsed at the end of April.
“The situation in Gaza reminds us again that the status quo is unsustainable and the only path to true security is a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians,” Obama said.
Even if a ceasefire is eventually agreed upon the prospect for future talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority looks bleak as long as P.A. chairman Mahmoud Abbas keeps in place a reconciliation agreement he reached with Hamas – a longstanding rival of his Fatah faction – in May.
That deal paved the way for the formation of a Hamas-backed “unity” government, prompting Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to accuse Abbas of having chosen peace with Hamas over peace with Israel.
Hamas is a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization, and American law prohibits federal funding for “any entity effectively controlled by Hamas, any power sharing government of which Hamas is a member, or that results from an agreement with Hamas and over which Hamas exercises undue influence.”
Despite the fact the unity government arose directly out of an agreement with Hamas, the Obama administration said since ministers in the government were “technocrats” unaffiliated with the terrorist group, it would continue to fund the P.A.