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Mideast cease-fire plan weighed

| Monday, July 14, 2014, 9:42 p.m.

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 on Monday there was “diplomatic movement,” while Israel's policy-making Security Cabinet was set to discuss the proposal early Tuesday.

Arab foreign ministers discussed the plan on Monday night at an emergency meeting in Cairo, and Secretary of State John Kerry was expected in the region on Tuesday.

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

In Washington, White House spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said the United States 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 started 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 to 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, 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 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.”

Thousands of residents are fleeing northern Gaza at the urging of the Israeli military. Israel's ground troops briefly crossed the border on Sunday to destroy a militant launching site.

“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.”

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.

With Palestinians counting at least 185 dead and more than 1,300 wounded in seven days of fierce Israeli bombardments from land, sea and air, United Nations officials accused the Israeli military on Monday of failing to take adequate measures to prevent civilian casualties.

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

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 on Sunday that the 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.

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