Senior Israeli official Amos Gilad was in Cairo on Thursday for crucial talks on an Egyptian proposal for a ceasefire in Gaza, a plan which Palestinian groups including Hamas described said was "not valid."
Gilad, a senior aide to Defence Minister Ehud Barak, was to hold confidential talks with Egypt's intelligence chief and pointman for Israeli affairs Omar Suleiman before heading home, the Israeli embassy said.
Israel is hopeful that the talks in Egypt "lead to conditions which will allow" the end of its offensive, a statement from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office said.
Suleiman will detail the plan's technical aspects on securing Egypt's border with the Gaza Strip through which Israel says Palestinian militants including Hamas get weapons, a diplomatic source told AFP, requesting anonymity.
Sealing the border, criss-crossed by hundreds of tunnels, is an Israeli requirement for ending its offensive in which more than 700 Palestinians have been killed.
Suleiman negotiated with Gilad the previous six-month truce with Hamas that expired on December 19, heralding the latest violence. On his return, Gilad will report his findings to the Israeli security cabinet, the source said.
Egypt on Wednesday detailed its plan to a Hamas delegation that flew in from exile in Syria, but Palestinian groups based in Syria, including Hamas, on Thursday said the Egyptian plan "has no valid basis."
"Palestinian organisations, notably Hamas, see no valid basis in the Egyptian plan for a solution to the crisis" in Gaza, Khaled Abdel-Majid, spokesman for Palestinian groups based in Damascus, said in a statement.