Hamas political bureau chief Khaled Mashaal convened a press conference in Cairo on Monday and said that Egypt and Qatar were mediating the conflict and trying to bring about a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. Mashaal made the statement against the backdrop of Arab media reports claiming an agreement between the sides was imminent.
Egyptian Prime Minister Hesham Kandil, who spent three hours in Gaza last Friday, was quoted in the media as saying, "A cease-fire agreement will be achieved shortly."
Mashaal did not confirm reports by the Al-Arabiya network that both sides had agreed to halt the violence and only the issue of a timetable of implementation was left to be agreed. He did say, however, that he had discussed an end to the conflict with Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and Egypt's head of intelligence Maj. Gen. Mohamed Raafat Shehata.
"There is a great effort by Egypt and Qatar. We are meeting and discussing the matter, and the negotiations are heading in a positive direction," Mashaal said. "It is important to mention that it was Israel that asked the U.S. and Europeans to help bring about a cease-fire, not Hamas. Those who started this war must end it."
"[Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu should know that we are not afraid of a ground assault and are prepared for it. An invasion of Gaza would be a stupid move on Israel's part and a political cemetery for Netanyahu. It won't be a picnic and Netanyahu will end up begging for a cease-fire," Mashaal said.
An Egyptian source involved in the negotiations for a cease-fire told Al-Arabiya that most of the solutions proposed by Egyptian mediators had been agreed by both sides. But, the official said, Israel was demanding that the agreement be implemented in two stages: a cease-fire within 24 hours, followed by negotiations for the easing of Israeli restrictions on Gaza. Hamas, for its part, is demanding an immediate cease-fire and international commitments to force Israel to lift its restrictions on Gaza and end its targeted assassinations.
Egyptian media reported that members of the Israeli delegation in Cairo had delivered a draft agreement formulated by Egyptian mediators to officials in Jerusalem. The proposal reportedly includes a plan for a long-term truce with Hamas which would be sponsored by Egypt on Hamas’ behalf, and by the U.S. on the Israeli side.
Morsi was said to have spoken to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on the phone on Monday, during which he updated Ahmadinejad on the latest developments in the effort to broker a cease-fire. According to analysts, the call was meant to bring onboard the head of the Islamic Jihad organization, Ramadan Salah, who is known to be close to Iranian leaders and is taking part in some of the discussions on a possible cease-fire.
Reports in the Egyptian media claim that the mood between Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza is tense, with Hamas leaders blaming Jihad rocket fire on Israel as the cause of the death of Ahmed Jabari. Jabari, known as the Hamas chief of staff, was killed by a direct missile strike on his car on the first day of Operation Pillar of Defense. The reports also say that Hamas is furious that Salah is not being flexible enough in the negotiations for a cease-fire and is making demands that even the Egyptians do not agree with.
On Tuesday, Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon said that Hamas was a terror organization, "that can call itself a government, have titles like Prime Minister, and Chief of Staff, but it's a terror organization." He also added that Islamic Jihad was funded by Iran and operated according to Iran's interests.
Over the next few days, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, all Arab League foreign ministers, senior members of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and senior officials from other Arab countries are scheduled to visit Gaza in a show of support.
Meanwhile, during a visit to Cambodia, U.S. President Barack Obama spoke on the phone with Morsi and the two discussed ways to end the conflict. Obama is said to have demanded that Hamas put an end to rocket fire on Israel. Obama reportedly phoned Netanyahu after speaking with Morsi and received updates on the situation in Israel and Gaza.