Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has agreed to a 12-hour humanitarian ceasefire that would start at 7am Israel local time Saturday morning. A Hamas-affiliated TV station said it too agreed to the truce, but spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the ceasefire would start at 8am.
Netanyahu informed US Secretary of State John Kerry that he decided to accept the temporary truce proposal on Friday night, according to the US officials.
According to reports, during the 12-hour truce the IDF will continue its work on locating terror tunnels, but will not carry out explosions of the tunnels and will hold its fire.
The Israeli cabinet has still not made a decision on John Kerry's Gaza ceasefire proposal. After long hours of deliberations, the ministers went on a break and will resume the meeting either later Friday night or on Saturday.
Kerry was in Cairo on Friday for meetings with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby to discuss the latest developments in Gaza and the efforts to secure a truce between the warring sides.
Kerry also met with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri, who supports the latest initiative from the US.
In a press conference in Cairo, Kerry said he has not yet reached a deal between Israel and Hamas to call a 7-day humanitarian truce in the Gaza Strip but is continuing work.
|Kerry's press conference in Cairo|
The truce, he said, would provide seven days to work out further talks to address each side's demands. He said some "terminology" on a truce's framework still needed work. "We don't yet have that final framework, but none of us are stopping," he said.
Kerry's comments reflected the difficulty of reaching even a brief halt in fighting, with Israel determined to destroy Hamas military tunnels from Gaza and rocket fire. After UN chief Ban Ki-moon raised the possibility of a far less ambitious 12-hour cease-fire, Kerry said Netanyahu had "expressed a willingness to discuss such a possibility."
The New York Times reported on Friday that Kerry offered the two sides a two-stage outline for a truce in the Gaza Strip that would begin with a week-long ceasefire starting on Sunday.
In the second stage, the moment the temporary ceasefire comes into effect, Israeli and Palestinian officials – and international delegates – will begin negotiating the security, economic, and political issues of the Gaza Strip.
The source said one major disagreement was over Israel's wish to leave soldiers in Gaza during the ceasefire. Government spokesman Mark Regev said Hamas chief Khaled Mashal has "put so many preconditions on a cease-fire so as to make it impossible."
However, Palestinian sources spoke to Al-Hayat and said Hamas had agreed, in principle, to a different ceasefire deal, according to which the humanitarian ceasefire will last for five days and begin on Saturday.
The report did indicate however, that Hamas had demanded guarantees on additional issues like the release of prisoners and the expansion of fishing rights.
According to the report, Kerry gave a guarantee that the siege of Gaza would end when a ceasefire is reached without any additional warranties such as the release of prisoners. The newspaper reported that during the five day ceasefire, negotiations would be held in Cairo to come to reach a permanent agreement.
An official briefed on security cabinet discussions envisaged an initial seven-day halt to the fighting during which the IDF would keep digging up tunnels on Gaza's eastern frontier.
"First Israel wants to hear Hamas's response to the (Kerry) proposals," the official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
Prime Minister Netanyahu, who convened his security cabinet at 3pm Friday, has said any truce should lead to the eventual stripping of Gaza's rocket arsenals - something Hamas rules out.
However, some senior coalition members and members of the security cabinet, are already objecting to the truce – regardless of its length or timing - though Netanyahu himself is said to support the idea.
Bayit Yehudi chairman and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett has expressed his absolute objection to any such deal.
"We must not take our foot off the gas pedal now," sources close to the minister said, adding that "(Bennett) objects to any deal that does not include Hamas of its rockets and the dismantling of all tunnels in Gaza."
Likud strongman and Interior Minister Gideon Saar said "we need to reject the ceasefire… what we should do is continue and even expand Operation Protective Edge."
Sources said that because of the disagreements in the cabinet, Netanyahu decided to postpone the meeting from 1:30 to 3 pm Friday.
Alongside Bennett, Foreign Minister Lieberman indicated during the week that he supports the continued bid to dismantle Hamas, and senior Likud members and Communication Minister Gilad Erdan also said he would not support ending the operation before the IDF has completed its mission.
Finance Minister Yair Lapid, a centrist, has not yet publically commented on where he stands regarding a ceasefire. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni is expected to support the deal.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, who said at the beginning of the week that the IDF needs only a few more days to take out the bulk of Hamas' tunnels, is expected to follow Netanyahu and support the bid.
The question now remains whether Aharonovitch, the interior security minister and a member of Lieberman's rightwing Yisrael Beiteinu party, will follow the reluctant foreign minister in rejecting the deal or the prime minister in voting in favor.
"We must stop the rocket launches. How this is done - whether through occupying (Gaza), or broadening (the operation), or (international) guarantees, or anything else, I have to see it with my own eyes," Aharonovitch said.
Earlier, Mashal declared that "Hamas' position on the subject of a ceasefire has not changed. The relevant officials are in talks with Washington to discuss amendments to US Secretary of State Kerry's initiative," Palestinian newspaper Al-Quds quoted him as saying.
Mashal met with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in Doha, Qatar on Friday on the efforts to reach a ceasefire.
A source close to Hamas said earlier that the Islamic Movement was mulling the option of a ceasefire. Mustafa al-Sawaf, the editor of the Hamas paper Al-Risalah, said the organization was considering Kerry's truce bid, but the clauses demanding that Hamas disarms and stipulating that the IDF remains in the Gaza Strip during the ceasefire were problematic clauses. "These are Israeli demands, and not part of the initiative." Sawaf said.
Hamas official in Cairo, Mousa Abu Marzook, told Egyptian newspaper Al-Shorouk on Friday that there are three possible scenarios for the end of the Gaza conflict: 1. The two sides agree on the Egyptian ceasefire offer, while making amendments that meet the demands of the resistance and the people of Gaza; 2. A unilateral ceasefire by Israel; the scenario most likely was - 3. The UN Security Council passes a resolution on a ceasefire in the same format as those in 2008 and 2009.
Abu Marzook stressed that "Hamas will not give up its demand to remove the siege on Gaza under any condition, and won't give up on the reopening of naval and aerial access to the Strip that has been under blockade since 2006. We want the people of Gaza to live normal life, like the rest of mankind, especially now when the Strip is under the Palestinian unity government, alongside the PA, and not under Hamas as it was before."
Abu Marzook also asserted that Netanyahu never actually wanted to enter into Gaza as part of a ground operation, but was pressured to do so by Lieberman and Bennett.
Reuters also contributed to this report