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Mursi has warned Netanyahu of serious consequences from a ground invasion of the kind that killed more than 1,400 people in Gaza four years ago. But he has been careful not to alienate Israel, with whom Egypt’s former military rulers signed a peace treaty in 1979, or Washington, a major aid donor to Egypt.
Egypt’s Kandil told Reuters a ceasefire was possible: “I think we are close, but the nature of this kind of negotiation, (means) it is very difficult to predict.”
After Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal laid out demands in Cairo that Israel take the first step in restoring calm, and warned Netanyahu that a ground war in Gaza could wreck his re-election prospects in January, a senior Israeli official denied a Hamas assertion that the prime minister had asked for a truce.
“Whoever started the war must end it,” Meshaal said, referring to Israel’s assassination from the air on Wednesday of Hamas’s Gaza military chief, a move that followed a scaling up of rocket fire onto Israeli towns over several weeks and attacks against Israeli troops along the border.
An official close to Netanyahu told Reuters: “We would prefer to see a diplomatic solution that would guarantee the peace for Israel’s population in the south. If that is possible, then a ground operation would no longer be required.”
Fortified by the ascendancy of fellow Islamists in Egypt and elsewhere, and courted by Sunni Arab leaders in the Gulf keen to draw the Palestinian group away from old ties to Shi’ite Iran, Hamas has tested its room for manoeuvre, as well as longer-range rockets that have reached the Tel Aviv metropolis.
Hamas said four-year-old twin boys had died with their parents when their house in the town of Beit Lahiya was struck from the air during the night. Neighbours said the occupants were not involved with militant groups.
Israel had no immediate comment on that attack. It says it takes extreme care to avoid civilians and accuses Hamas and other militant groups of deliberately placing Gaza’s 1.7 million people in harm’s way by placing rocket launchers among them.
Nonetheless, fighting Israel, whose right to exist Hamas refuses to recognise, is popular with many Palestinians and has kept the movement competitive with the secular Fatah movement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who remains in the West Bank after losing Gaza to Hamas in a civil war five years ago.
“Hamas and the others, they’re our sons and our brothers, we’re fingers on the same hand,” said 55-year-old Faraj al-Sawafir, whose home was blasted by Israeli forces. “They fight for us and are martyred, they take losses and we sacrifice too.”
In scenes recalling Israel’s 2008-2009 winter invasion of the coastal enclave, tanks, artillery and infantry have massed in field encampments along the sandy, fenced-off border.