A senior Israeli government official warned that Israel will strike Gaza even harder if Hamas does not accept a truce.
Hamas rejected an Egyptian proposal for a ceasefire with Israel today, moments after the Israeli Cabinet accepted the plan.
The move threw into disarray international efforts to end a week of fighting which has killed 192 Palestinians and exposed millions of Israelis to Hamas rocket fire.
Israel has carried out hundreds of air strikes against targets in Gaza in the past week and amassed troops on the border of the coastal strip, but has so far refrained from a ground offensive that could quickly drive up the casualty count on both sides.
The Egyptian ceasefire offer, which was presented late yesterday, called for a halt to hostilities as of this morning, followed by negotiations on easing the closure of Gaza’s borders – a closure that has been enforced by both Israel and Egypt to varying degrees since Hamas seized the territory in 2007.
A group of senior Israeli Cabinet ministers accepted the offer today, according to a statement by the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. A senior government official told the Associated Press after the announcement that Israel would step up its military offensive if Hamas rejects the offer.
“As you know, the Cabinet has accepted the Egyptian proposal. If Hamas rejects it, Israel will continue and intensify its operations and Hamas will find itself totally isolated, including in the Arab world, which supports the proposal,” said the official.
In Gaza, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the Egyptian proposal was “not acceptable”.
The military wing of Hamas, Izzedine al-Qassam, said in a statement on the Hamas website that the proposal “does not deserve the ink it was written with”.
Hamas officials are weary of promises by Egypt and Israel to ease the border blockade. Such promises were also part of a truce that ended more than a week of fighting in 2012, but were quickly broken as violence flared again.
“It’s not logical to ask people who are under aggression to cease fire and then later to negotiate terms that were not respected in the past by the Israelis,” he said, referring to the 2012 truce.
An easing of the blockade is key to the survival of Hamas. Before the outbreak of the latest round of fighting, the militant group found itself in a serious financial crisis because a particularly tight closure by Egypt had prevented cash and goods from coming into the strip through hundreds of smuggling tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State John Kerry, who was in Vienna for negotiations over Iran’s nuclear programme, decided not to make an immediate trip to the Middle East today to push diplomatic efforts toward the Israel-Hamas ceasefire.