Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Wednesday accused Turkey and Qatar of sabotaging the cease-fire proposal Egypt drafted for Israel and Hamas earlier this week.
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Haaretz learned that Lieberman told Borg Brende, Norway’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, who is visiting Israel, that Hamas lied when it said Cairo had not sent it the cease-fire proposal, which Israel initially accepted.
He said Egyptian intelligence officials had given the details of the initiative to Mousa Abu-Marzouk, head of the Hamas mission in Cairo.
Meanwhile, Israel agreed on Wednesday night to a request from Robert Serry, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East for UNRWA, to a five-hour cease-fire on Thursday in order to allow humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip.
The death toll in Gaza continued rising on Wednesday, with 18 more fatalities as Israel intensified its air strikes. Altogether 220 Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza Strip since the beginning of the offensive, the Palestinian Health Ministry said.
“Hamas was ready to consider the Egyptian proposal favorably but Qatar wanted to screw the Egyptians and told them not to accept it,” Lieberman told Brende, Haaretz learned.
He said all Qatar’s moves were coordinated with Turkey and both these states are pushing Hamas leaders not to accept the Egyptian proposals.
A senior Israeli official said that Khaled Meshal, head of Hamas’ political bureau, prefers the Qatari—Turkish mediation to Egypt’s brokerage. Meshal is close both to Qatar’s emir and to Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan. Israel prefers Egypt as negotiator, especially due to its shaky relations with Turkey and severed relations with Qatar.
Brende also met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday and offered Norway’s services as an indirect channel to broker a cease–fire between Israel and Hamas. Contrary to European Union nations, Norway is not boycotting Hamas and talks to its leaders.
The cease–fire talks continued Wednesday in Cairo and in a series of telephone calls to diplomats of several states, mainly to the United States. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke on the telephone to the secretary general of the Arab League and to the foreign ministers of Egypt, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates in a bid to generate Arab pressure on Hamas.
Quartet envoy Tony Blair and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi in Cairo yesterday. Abbas also met Abu-Marzuk in Cairo and spoke on the telephone to Meshal.
Abbas is to leave for Ankara for talks with Erdogan on Thursday.
Despite the intensive talks, so far no concrete formula that both sides could accept has been presented.
Netanyahu said yesterday at meetings with the foreign ministers of Norway and Italy that he had accepted the Egyptian cease–fire proposal, but Hamas rejected it, “closing the door to a diplomatic solution.”
Netanyahu said Hamas will bear responsibility for the repercussions of rejecting the cease–fire.
According to the Palestinian Health Ministry, nine of the 18 Palestinians killed in the Gaza Strip yesterday were children aged 3-10. Most of the fatalities were from the Khan Yunis area and Gaza City.
Four of the children, of the Bachar family, were killed while strolling on the beach. The four, aged 9, 10 and 11, were killed immediately; several others were wounded.
Yesterday evening six more people were killed in an air strike in Khan Yunis, including a 3-year-old toddler and two children aged 4 and 6.
Palestinian sources said an Israeli aircraft fired at a group of people who had gathered in Khan Yunis’ Absan neighborhood.
The Israeli bombardment from air, land and sea continued all day yesterday on dozens of targets throughout the Gaza Strip, mainly on houses of senior Hamas officials, including political leaders. These included the homes of Mahmoud al-Zahar, former interior minister Fathi Hamad, Hamas parliament member Jamila Ashanti and others.
The houses were empty, probably because their owners were expecting Israel to bomb them, the sources said. Thousands of Palestinians left their homes in the Sejiya and Zaitun neighborhoods of Gaza City after Israel’s warning that it intended to bombard the area. The warning was conveyed through leaflets and telephone cals.
Yesterday morning the IDF fired artillery shells at the Beit Lahia area “in an attempt to encourage population evacuation,” Israeli military sources said.
The Interior Ministry in Gaza called on the people to ignore the Israeli warnings to evacuate their homes near the border fence. The ministry issued a statement saying the warning was part of Israel’s incitement and intimidation campaign against the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
“The warnings and vocal messages Israel is broadcasting to the houses are intended to create chaos and confusion among the people and intimidate the public. Don’t respond to them,” the statement said.
Despite this, hundreds of families, especially those with children, left their homes. UNRWA figures suggest more than 22,000 Palestinians evacuated their homes. Most of them found refuge in some 20 UNRWA schools.
“We’re trying to help them as much as we can but our resources are limited,” UNRWA spokesman Adnan Abu Hasaneh said.
Palestinian officials said the Wafa hospital in Sejiya was also told by Israel to evacuate the premises, but the hospital management refused, saying there was nowhere to take the patients to. There’s no reason to attack a hospital, the management said.
The hospital’s doctors and staff told Al Jazeera they decided to stay with the patients and not leave the premises.