Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire hopes stalled

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Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire hopes stalled

Three officials briefed on negotiations said on Sunday that Egyptian mediators made progress toward a cease-fire between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza, which raised hopes that the latest outbreak of hostilities might end by early Monday. On Sunday evening, Arab media outlets published statements from Islamic Jihad, saying that the group had agreed to a truce, but there was no confirmation from Israel or Egyptian mediators. The talks were stalled, according to other Arab and Israeli media. Israeli officials have signaled to mediators that they are ready to wind down their airstrikes after they achieve key military objectives, including the killing of two leading military commanders from Islamic Jihad, Israel's main opponent in this round of fighting, according to two officials briefed on the talks. Both are Western diplomats who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the discussions.

Some of Islamic Jihad's remaining leaders also feel they have little to gain through further fighting, the diplomats said, especially given the calm in Jerusalem on Sunday despite calls for Palestinians to demonstrate at one of the city's holiest sites.

A third official briefed on the mediation effort, who requested anonymity for the same reason, confirmed that it was gaining momentum, but declined to comment on the motivations of the two sides. The Israeli military said it would stop firing if Islamic Jihad did so first. The Israeli prime minister's office declined to comment, and an Islamic Jihad spokesman could not be reached immediately. One of the Western diplomats said that the main obstacle to a cease-fire is a disagreement among Islamic Jihad's remaining leadership about its timing. Some hard-liners want the group to keep fighting for a few more days in order to inflict more damage to Israel and possibly draw Hamas, the main militia in Gaza, into the conflict, the diplomat said. Hamas, which took control of the strip in 2007, often fights Israel but is reluctant to join in the current round. After a major war last year, the group is rebuilding its arsenal and military infrastructure, and it does not want to jeopardize several economic concessions Israel made to Gaza afterward. The longer the current fighting continues, the more pressure grows on Hamas to offer military support to Islamic Jihad - a decision that would almost certainly extend the length and intensity of the conflict.

Egypt has become a key broker between Israelis and Palestinians, especially during conflicts with militias in Gaza, such as Islamic Jihad, which have no direct relations with Israel. Egypt is a southern neighbor to both Gaza and Israel, and has a strategic interest in restoring calm to the territory. As the first Arab country to seal a peace deal with Israel and as a major gateway for Palestinian trade and travel, it is well placed to play mediator.