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Israeli artillery guards the Israeli-Gaza border July 14. / Getty Images

GAZA CITY - A cease-fire plan proposed by Egypt is the most serious attempt yet by international mediators to end bloody fighting between Israel and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas' top leader in Gaza confirmed Monday there was "diplomatic movement," while Israel's policy-making Security Cabinet was set to discuss the proposal early Tuesday.

In Washington, President Obama welcomed the proposal to stop the bloodshed.

"We're going to continue to do everything we can to facilitate a return to the 2012 cease-fire," Obama said at a White House dinner celebrating the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. "We are encouraged that Egypt has made a proposal to accomplish that goal."

Arab foreign ministers discussed the plan Monday night at an emergency meeting in Cairo.

Although U.S. officials had said Secretary of State John Kerry was considering a trip to the region to push diplomatic efforts there, Kerry has decided to end his nine-day trip and return to the U.S., according to the Associated Press. He had been in Vienna for talks aimed at halting Iran's nuclear program.

With at least 185 people dead in a week of heavy fighting, both sides have come under increasing international pressure to halt the fighting.

In Washington, White House spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said the U.S. hopes the plan will lead to calm being restored as soon as possible.

Israel is demanding guarantees of an extended period of quiet, while Hamas seeks an easing of an Israeli-Egyptian blockade on Hamas-ruled Gaza. Israel launched the offensive last week, saying it was a response to weeks of heavy rocket fire out of Gaza.

Egypt's Foreign Ministry announced the three-step plan starting with a temporary cease-fire to go into effect within 12 hours of "unconditional acceptance" by the two sides. That would be followed by the opening of Gaza's border crossings and talks in Cairo between the sides within two days, according to the statement.

In a speech broadcast on Al-Jazeera, Ismail Haniyeh, a Hamas leader in Gaza, confirmed that there was "diplomatic movement."

But on CNN, Hamas spokesman Osama Hamdan called the cease-fire proposal a publicity stunt and "joke.'' However, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said he is hopeful that "we may see some real, real serious signs of a possible cease-fire in the next 12-24 hours."

Egypt, the first Arab state to reach peace with Israel, often serves as a mediator between Israel and Hamas.

The Israeli military said three rockets were fired at the southern city of Eilat early Tuesday morning, lightly injuring two people and sparking a fire. The military said it did not immediately know who was behind the rocket fire. Previous rocket attacks on Eilat were from radical Islamic militants in the neighboring Sinai Peninsula.

Israel's military said that it shot down an unmanned drone along its southern coastline, the first time it has encountered such a weapon since its struggle with Gaza Strip militants began last week.

The military said the drone came from Gaza and was downed by a Patriot missile near the southern city of Ashdod.

The development comes as thousands of residents are fleeing northern Gaza at the urging of the Israeli military and as Israel's ground troops briefly crossed the border Sunday on a mission to destroy a launching site used by militants.

"We (left) after Israel threatened to bomb our house," said Samar Elewa, 19, of Bet Lahiya, in northern Gaza Strip. "We did not know where to go. We found other families walking on the street, and we decided to go to the UNRWA (the United Nation's refugee agency) school."

"In the school, we can't sleep - I feel like we are refugees in our own country," said Elewa.

Since the conflict began, militants have fired nearly 1,000 rockets at Israel, causing some injuries and damage to property, but no fatalities among Israelis. By contrast, 175 Palestinians have died as a result of Israel's air attacks. More than 1,200 have been injured, Gaza's health ministry said.

The use of drones with an offensive capacity could inflict significant casualties - something the rockets from Gaza have failed to do, largely because of the success of the Israeli military's "Iron Dome" air-defense system in shooting them down.

"Hamas is trying everything it can to produce some kind of achievement, and it is crucial that we maintain our high state of readiness," Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said. "The shooting down of a drone this morning by our air-defense system is an example of their efforts to strike at us in any way possible."



Monday night, the military wing of Hamas briefly hacked news coverage on Channel 10, one of Israel's two commercial broadcasters. Government websites also reportedly were hacked.

Hamas inserted images of wounded Gazans into the Channel 10 broadcast and the message: "Your government chose the time to launch this campaign. Your government will not agree to our terms, so prepare yourselves for an extended stay in the bomb shelters."

It was not the first time during the latest conflict that the Palestinian group has hacked an Israeli broadcaster, but it was the first time viewers had complained, the Jerusalem Post reported. Channel 10 is carried by U.S. cable companies.

Two weeks ago, the Syrian Electronic Army hacking group posted bogus tweets on the Israeli Army's Twitter account. One claimed the Dimona nuclear facility was leaking.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that the current Israeli operation could last for "a long time" and that the military was prepared "for all possibilities."

Calls for a cease-fire are growing internationally as casualties mount. Protests have flared in Paris and elsewhere against the Israeli operation, which aims to prevent Hamas and affiliated groups from targeting Israeli territory with rockets.

Contributing: Michele Chabin in Jerusalem; William M. Welch in Los Angeles; Associated Press



Copyright 2014USAToday

Read the original story: Egypt proposes cease-fire for Israel, Hamas

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