Jerusalem/Gaza, Jul 15 (PTI): Israel on Tuesday accepted an Egyptian-proposed ceasefire plan to halt its deadly nine-day offensive on the Gaza Strip in which 192 Palestinians have died, but warned that the operation would be intensified if Hamas militants refuse to accept the truce.
The Palestinian militant group has rejected the ceasefire proposal, calling it a “surrender”.
Despite Hamas' rejection of the ceasefire plan, which came into effect at 9am local time, the truce has largely held with several hours of lull in violence since morning.
”If Hamas doesn't accept the ceasefire proposal -- and that's how it seems at this point in time -- Israel will have all the international legitimacy to broaden its military activity (in Gaza) in order to achieve the necessary quiet,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.
He said Israel wanted “the demilitarisation” of Gaza and would respond “with force” to any further rocket fire.
Israel's security cabinet and the coalition partners in Netanyahu's government, however, were divided on the decision to accept the ceasefire proposal with vociferous opposition raised by some key leaders.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman voted against the ceasefire plan, as did Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett.
Besides Netanyahu, Defence Minister Moshe Ya'alon, Finance Minister Yair Lapid, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and ministers Gilad Erdan and Yitzhak Aharonovich voted in favour of the ceasefire proposal under Egyptian mediation.
Under the proposed Egyptian ceasefire plan, Israel will stop its aerial and naval attacks on Gaza, specifically refraining from any ground incursion into the Strip.
Hamas is supposed to rein in the Palestinian factions and work to put an end to all types of attacks on Israel, including by rockets, sea or even underground tunnels.
”If the offer is what was reported, then it is surrender. We'll intensity our fight against the enemy,” Hamas' armed wing, Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, said in a statement.
Hamas spokesman Fauzi Barhoum also said that the Egyptian ceasefire offer was unacceptable.
”A ceasefire without an agreement is out of the question. During a war, you don't hold your fire and only then start negotiating,” he said.
Hamas political bureau member, Ezzat Rishq was quoted in local media as saying that the Egyptian initiative was not discussed with Hamas, Islamic Jihad or one of the other factions in the Gaza Strip.
Meanwhile, the death toll from Israel's military campaign in Gaza today rose to 192, after six more Palestinians died, four of them in strikes before Israel accepted the ceasefire.
More than 1,300 Palestinians, including women and children, have been wounded since the offensive started on July 7, according to Palestinian health authorities.
So far, no Israelis have been killed in the fighting.
US Secretary of State John Kerry urged Hamas to accept Egypt's ceasefire proposal to halt fighting with Israel in the Gaza Strip.
In a statement by the State Department on Tuesday, Kerry welcomed Israel's decision to accept the proposal.
”The Egyptian proposal for a ceasefire and negotiations provides an opportunity to end the violence and restore calm. We welcome the Israeli cabinet's decision to accept it. We urge all other parties to accept the proposal,” Kerry said.
The Islamic factions senior leader Osama Hamdan described the Egyptian initiative as a “joke.”
”We did not receive this declared paper from the Egyptians... which means it's an initiative for the media. It's not a political initiative,” he told CNN.
The initiative was meant to “push the Palestinians into a corner and aid the Israelis”, Hamdan asserted.
Some members within Netanyahu's ruling Likud party slammed the ceasefire offer as “capitulation”.
Deputy Security Minister Danny Danon voiced disapproval of the Egyptian brokered ceasefire proposal saying, “a ceasefire is a slap in the face for the Israeli people.”
Another Likud parliamentarian, Miri Regev, also opposed reports on the deal, saying, “I call on the prime minister not to agree to a ceasefire and to make a military decision that will weaken Hamas through action in the air, land and sea.”
”This window of opportunity won't return and any ceasefire with Hamas will allow the organization to return to power,” Roger said.
Bennett described the proposal as “good for Hamas and bad for Israel...A cease-fire at the present time shows the government's weakness.”
Many analysts here believe that Netanyahu's position has been weakened politically over these differences.
Lieberman a few days ago decided to break his party's joint association with the Likud in the parliament even though he didn't pull out of the coalition government.
Israel has massed thousands of troops on the border with Gaza amid warnings it is prepared to launch a ground invasion.
About 17,000 people from the Beit Lahiya area in the northern Gaza Strip streamed for protection into UN-run facilities after Israel warned residents of the area to leave their homes.
Despite the concentrated attack, Palestinian militants continued to fire rockets at a broad swath of Israel.
The Israeli military yesterday said it shot down a drone spotted along the Israeli coastline, near the city of Ashdod.
Hamas' military wing said that it has sent a number of drones on missions inside Israel and would provide more details in due course.
While the Israeli attacks have killed some militants, around 70 per cent of the fatalities were civilians, according to the United Nations. Of the dead, more than 30 are children, the UN said.