Israel said its Gaza offensive could be “in the final act” on Friday and sent envoys to discuss truce terms after Hamas made a ceasefire offer to end three weeks of fighting that has killed 1,138 Palestinians.
Hamas has proposed a year-long truce with Israel if it pulls its troops from Gaza.
However, Israel rebuffed at least two major elements of the ceasefire terms outlined by the Islamist movement, and fighting continued, albeit with less intensity than on Thursday.
And in Doha, Hamas’s exiled leader Khaled Meshaal told Arab leaders his group would not accept Israeli conditions for the ceasefire and would fight on until Israel ended hostilities.
He urged participants at an emergency Arab meeting on Gaza to cut all ties with the Jewish state. The inauguration of new US President Barack Obama on Tuesday is seen by some as the time by which Israel will bow to mounting international pressure and call off its attacks.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, touring the region, again said he expected a ceasefire deal within days but urged Israel to stop firing immediately. “It is time now to even think about a unilateral ceasefire,” he said in Ramallah.
At least 13 rockets landed in Israel from Gaza, the army said, slightly wounding one person. Hamas rocket fire has dwindled during the war — which Israel launched on December 27 with the declared aim of crippling Hamas’s rocket-firing capacity. Israeli air strikes killed 10 Palestinians. Among them were guerrillas and civilians, including two children.
Final act: Olmert
“Hopefully we’re in the final act,” Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s spokesman Mark Regev said, adding that briefings by the envoys working in Washington and Cairo could be followed by swift decisions by the security cabinet.
Gazans savoured a relative lull a day after intense combat that some saw as a final Israeli push before a ceasefire. Israeli planes struck 40 targets in Gaza overnight, but then fighting eased, to the relief of Palestinians.