Secretary of State John Kerry has proposed a two-stage plan to halt the fighting in the Gaza Strip that would first impose a weeklong truce starting Sunday, an official involved in the negotiations said on Friday.
As soon as the truce took effect, Palestinian and Israeli officials would begin negotiations on the principal economic, political and security concerns about Gaza, with other nations attending, reports The New York Times.
Important details of the plan remained under negotiation early Friday, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity as the negotiations were at a delicate stage. Among the unresolved issues is an Israeli proposal that its troops be allowed to remain in Gaza during the temporary truce.
It was not clear if the final plan would be endorsed by Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza, or by the Israeli cabinet.
Hamas’s political leader, Khaled Meshal, has stated that he would not accept an enduring cease-fire until his demands were met, including the lifting of an economic blockade on Gaza. But Meshal called Wednesday for a humanitarian truce to allow relief aid to reach Gaza, and the proposed start of the seven-day truce is intended to coincide with the Muslim feast of Eid al-Fitr, which signals the end of Ramadan. The Israeli cabinet was expected to discuss the plan on Friday afternoon, Israel’s Haaretz newspaper reported.
The escalating toll in Gaza, punctuated on Thursday by a strike on a United Nations school in Beit Hanoun where hundreds had sought shelter, added pressure to reach a truce. So did Kerry’s travel schedule.
“He isn’t here for an indefinite amount of time, and in the near future, he will determine whether there is a willingness to come to an agreement on a cease-fire,” a senior State Department official told reporters Thursday evening.
The Israeli news media has reported that Kerry planned to leave Cairo for the United States on Friday afternoon.
In his push for an agreement, Kerry has been involved in round-the-clock calls with officials in the region, and the proposal he is pursuing reflects his sense of a process that might be acceptable to both sides.
Kerry spoke by telephone on Thursday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, a conversation that took place before he was aware of the attack on the school in Gaza.
Kerry also spoke with his counterparts from Qatar, Turkey, Egypt and Norway. His conversations with the Qatari and Turkish foreign ministers were especially important since they have supported Hamas, have some influence with the militant group, and appeared to be functioning as intermediaries.
On Thursday evening, Kerry met here with Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, to coordinate strategy.
“I was shocked and appalled by what has happened in Beit Hanoun,” Ban said at the start of the meeting.
Asked how close he thought he was to an agreement, Kerry replied, “I am going to have a lot to say tomorrow, probably, so I am going to wait until then.”
“I certainly have some work to do tonight,” he added. “The tragic incident today, and every day, just underscores the work we are trying to do and what we are trying to achieve. So we are going to keep at it, and we need to actually sit down and get to work.”