Israeli representatives arrived in Cairo Thursday for Egyptian-brokered talks on a cease-fire proposal after the U.N. Security Council failed to agree on action to end the escalating crisis in Gaza.
Egypt's top diplomats said Wednesday that talks would be held separately with representatives of Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas on the Egyptian-French cease-fire initiative.
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Amos Gilad, a senior Israeli Defense Ministry official, and Shalom Turjeman, a top aide to Israel's prime minister, arrived Thursday morning. The official Egyptian news agency MENA said the delegates will discuss "the basic details on how to implement" the initiative.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said there would be no meeting between Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers, whose arrival date in Cairo is uncertain.
Israel's 13-day offensive in Gaza has killed hundreds of Palestinians, and with roughly half of the dead civilians, international efforts to broker a cease-fire have gained steam.
Aboul Gheit said Egypt will be asking Israel and Hamas for a temporary cease-fire "that would lead to a consolidated permanent cease-fire." Then, he said, negotiations would take place with the European Union and the Palestinian Authority, which lost control of Gaza, on how to open the Rafah crossing on the Egyptian-Gaza border.
Israel's government said earlier that it viewed the proposal positively but stopped short of acceptance. A Hamas official said the Islamic militant group, which rules Gaza, was not ready to either accept or reject the plan, which he claimed favored Israel.
Meanwhile, the U.N.'s most powerful body was divided Wednesday on taking action. The U.S., British and French ministers, as well as the Arab negotiators, extended their stay in New York and scheduled another closed-door session Thursday morning.
Arabs are insisting on a legally binding resolution demanding an immediate cease-fire and withdrawal of Israeli troops while the U.S., Britain and France want a weaker statement emphasizing that a "durable cease-fire" requires guarantees on reopening border crossings and preventing arms smuggling to Hamas.
"There is no unanimity today on either of those text," France's U.N. Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert, the current council president said after closed consultations, "and because we want to go forward in a common approach we have decided to continue our talks and our negotiations."
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met into the night with counterparts from key Arab and European nations over the Security Council's next step. She emerged saying: "We believe that there is still work to do." That view was echoed by the Saudi and Egyptian foreign ministers.
Rice applauded the Egyptian-French cease-fire proposal and said she had talked with both the Israelis and Arab envoys about "the importance of moving that initiative forward."
Israel and the United States are demanding that border monitors destroy tunnels that Hamas has used to smuggle arms into Gaza from Egypt.
In Paris, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said the Palestinian Authority supported the cease-fire initiative, but the administration of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has no sway in Gaza. Sarkozy did not mention Hamas.
Israeli officials were noncommittal on the plan. "Israel welcomes the initiative of the French president and the Egyptian president to bring about a sustainable quiet in the south," government spokesman Mark Regev said in Jerusalem.
A Hamas representative in Lebanon, Osama Hamdan, said only that the group was considering the proposal, along with other ideas presented by Turkey and by Arab states.
In a potential warning sign, Hamdan complained that "the initiatives mostly favor Israel."
Israel says it launched the air and ground attack to end Hamas rocketing that has traumatized southern Israel. Hamas, a militant Islamic group which the U.S. and Israel consider a terrorist organization, wrested control of Gaza from the Palestinian Authority in June 2007, and since 2001, hit has launched more than 3,000 Qassam rockets and 2,500 mortar attacks against Israeli targets.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.