But the U.S. appeared to have taken a backseat role in the cease-fire talks, leaving the details to Egypt, which has relations with both sides – unlike the United States, which has branded Hamas a terrorist organization.
Indeed, protecting their relationship with Egypt is the one thing that unites both Hamas and Israel, said one Western diplomat who is monitoring the talks; he asked to remain anonymous because he was not authorized to discuss the negotiations.
The diplomat noted that Israel is anxious to preserve its three-decade-long peace treaty with Egypt, something that a Gaza invasion might threaten, while Hamas has close ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist organization of which Morsi was a longtime official before assuming the presidency.
“Egypt is the only game in town when it comes to this thing. There is no substitute for Egypt’s role,” the Western diplomat said. “Both sides want to protect their relationship.”
In spite of the talks, Monday was another day of blows and counterblows, though the battle appeared largely one-sided. At least 24 Palestinians died in Israeli bombing raids, including Ramez Harb, the media director for the Saraya El Quds armed wing of Islamic Jihad, who died in an airstrike on the main media center in Gaza City, which houses both international and Palestinian journalists.
Gaza militants fired more than 100 rockets into Israel on Monday, but Israeli officials reported no casualties and said that all had landed in open areas or had been intercepted by the country’s Iron Dome anti-missile system.
Palestinian medics said the death toll in Gaza had reached 101 over six days of bombing; 24 of those were children.
Any cease-fire that exchanged an end to rocket attacks on Israel for an easing of the Israeli blockade of Gaza would be a historic agreement. Unlike their Palestinian rivals, Fatah, the political party that rules the West Bank, Hamas has never recognized Israel’s right to exist or embraced a two-state solution for the six-decade standoff with Israel. Israel, for its part, has branded Hamas a terrorist organization and has refused to recognize its role in any Palestinian government, despite elections that gave Hamas control of Gaza.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Monday that Israel could still move forward with a ground invasion of Gaza, though military analysts said the option was “less realistic and far less likely” Monday evening then it had been 24 hours earlier – an observation Israeli soldiers in Erez echoed.
“We were told that we were moving in, and then just as it was supposed to happen it was suddenly called off,” said one infantryman, who said his unit had already begun to move on Sunday. “Our state of preparedness to move in is certainly lower today.”
A senior Israeli defense official told McClatchy that as long as cease-fire talks moved in a positive direction, a ground invasion was unlikely.
“The ground op was the last resort when we thought that there would be no move toward a solution,” said the official, who spoke anonymously because he was not authorized to speak to reporters. “But from the military point of view, the ground op was always going to be tricky and best avoided.”
He said that Israel was more likely to lose soldiers, as well as hit civilian areas of Gaza, if a ground operation were ordered.
Such a move also appeared to be unpopular with average Israelis. A poll published Monday by the Haaretz newspaper showed that while 84 percent of Israelis supported the air and naval assault on Gaza, only 30 percent supported a ground invasion.