An Israeli delegation spent several hours in Cairo on Wednesday discussing Egypt’s efforts to broker a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip, as Israel’s inner cabinet directed the military to continue to press its battle against Hamas with full force.
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The full cabinet is scheduled to convene on Thursday afternoon for a briefing on the military situation in the Strip.
The delegation to Cairo comprised the prime minister’s adviser Isaac Molho, Shin Bet security service chief Yoram Cohen and the head of the Defense Ministry’s political-defense desk, Amos Gilad. They met with senior Egyptian intelligence officials to discuss Cairo’s talks with the Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip and with the Palestinian Authority.
The delegation left for Cairo during a five-hour session of the inner cabinet. A senior official who was at the meeting said the cabinet ministers unanimously approved the continuation of the Israel Defense Forces’ operation against Hamas and other terror organizations in Gaza, including the completion of the goal of rendering the tunnels leading from the Strip into Israel unusable. Israel will continue to declare temporary humanitarian cease-fires in areas where there are no battles, where such lulls won’t endanger the soldiers or prevent the anti-tunnel operations, the official said. Such a four-hour cease-fire was declared for certain locations on Wednesday between 3 P.M. and 7 P.M.
“The purpose of these cease-fires is to ease the situation for the civilian population of Gaza,” a senior Israeli official said.
A senior official said Israel is not close to accepting an overall cease-fire.
“When a cease-fire proposal that addresses Israel’s important needs presented, it will be considered,” he said. “The operation continues and the IDF will expand its attacks against Hamas and the rest of the terror organizations.”
The Israeli delegation’s visit to Cairo was reported soon after he spoke.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry also continued his efforts on Wednesday to advance a cease-fire. State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said at the department’s daily press briefing that over the previous 24 hours Kerry had spoken three times to Qatar’s foreign minister, urging him to continue pressing Hamas to agree to a cease-fire. Harf said the United States believes Qatar is one of the few countries that can influence Hamas.
“The Israelis support our efforts to achieve a cease-fire as well as the way we are working to do this,” Harf said, adding that claims that Kerry supports Hamas are “offensive and absurd.”
The White House on Wednesday issued a statement condemning the shelling of an UN school in Jabalya on Tuesday, though it did not explicitly blame Israel for the shelling. The statement also condemned the hiding of missiles and weapons in Gaza schools.
“We are extremely concerned that thousands of internally displaced Palestinians who have been called on by the Israeli military to evacuate their homes are not safe in UN designated shelters in Gaza,” the statement said. “We also condemn those responsible for hiding weapons in United Nations facilities in Gaza. All of these actions, and similar ones earlier in the conflict, are inconsistent with the UN’s neutrality. This violence underscores the need to achieve a cease-fire as soon as possible.”
Senior PA official Saeb Erekat traveled to Qatar at the invitation of the Qatari foreign minister and is expected to meet there with the head of Hamas’ political bureau, Khaled Meshal, to discuss the outline for a cease-fire in Gaza. A senior Palestinian official told Haaretz, “There are contacts on several levels, but there’s no breakthrough yet.”
The office of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas denied reports that a delegation from Ramallah had also gone to Cairo. “There is no Palestinian delegation in Cairo nor will such a delegation be dispatched as long as there is no cease-fire on the ground,” a senior official in Abbas’ bureau told Haaretz.
“The announcement on the matter released yesterday by the PLO was in coordination with Meshal, and it spoke of a readiness for a humanitarian cease-fire. [But] the one who still opposes such a cease-fire is Israel, which continues its massive bombardment of the Gaza Strip and killing of people,” the official said.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri rejected Israel’s efforts to allow limited humanitarian truces in Gaza. “Israel’s announcement of a four-hour humanitarian truce was solely for the media. It’s worthless because it doesn’t include the entire Gaza Strip, only areas where there’s no fighting in any case.