A diplomatic push to end Israel’s nearly week-long offensive in the Gaza Strip gained momentum on Tuesday, with Egypt’s president predicting that airstrikes would soon end, the U.S. Secretary of State racing to the region and Israel’s prime minister saying his country would be a “willing partner” to a cease-fire with the Islamic militant group Hamas.
As international diplomats worked to cement a deal, a senior Hamas official said an agreement was close even as relentless airstrikes and rocket attacks between the two sides continued.
The Israeli death toll rose to five with the deaths on Tuesday of an Israeli soldier and a civilian contractor. More than 130 Palestinians have been killed.
“We haven’t struck the deal yet, but we are progressing and it will most likely be tonight,” Moussa Abu Marzouk said Tuesday from Cairo, where cease-fire talks were being held. A second Hamas official, Izzat Risheq, said later that a deal might not be reached.
Israeli officials said only that “intensive efforts” were under way to end the fighting. Israeli media quoted Defense Minister Ehud Barak as telling a closed meeting that Israel wanted a 24-hour test period of no rocket fire to see if Hamas could enforce a truce.
In what appeared to be a last-minute burst of heavy fire, Israeli tanks and gunboats shelled targets late on Tuesday, and an airstrike killed two brothers riding on a motorcycle. The men weren’t identified.
The fighting came shortly before U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton arrived. Clinton rushed to a late-night meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. President Barack Obama dispatched her to the Mideast from Cambodia, where she had accompanied him on a visit.
Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, perhaps the most important interlocutor between Hamas, which rules the Palestinian territory, and the Israelis, said the negotiations between the two sides would yield “positive results” during the coming hours.