Israel to hold fire in Egypt premier's Gaza visit

Gaza protest

Israel will suspend its offensive in the Gaza Strip on Friday during a brief visit by Egypt's premier there if militants refrain from firing rockets at Israel, an official said, the first possible break in the escalating conflict.

An official in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said the Israeli leader was responding to an Egyptian request.

Israel told the Egyptians the military "would hold its fire on the condition that during that period, there won't be hostile fire from Gaza into Israel,'' the official said. "Prime Minister Netanyahu is committed to the peace treaty with Egypt, which is in the strategic interest of both countries, he added, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the diplomatic exchange.

It wasn't clear whether Israel hoped to use the possible suspension of hostilities to seek a broader truce or was agreeing to the halt in fighting only as a gesture to Egypt.

Three days of fierce fighting between Israel and Gaza militants has widened the instability gripping the region, straining already frayed Israel-Egypt relations. The Cairo government recalled its ambassador in protest and said it was sending its prime minister, Hesham Kandil, to Gaza for a three-hour visit Friday in a show of solidarity with the Palestinian territory's militant Hamas rulers.

Egyptian intelligence officials involved in negotiations to end previous rounds of fighting are accompanying Kandil on his visit, an Egyptian diplomat said, suggesting it is more than a display of support.

The diplomat said Gaza militants have told Egyptian intelligence officials they would be willing to hold their fire if Israel would commit to mediation to stop its military operation and targeted killings.

Word of the possible pause in the fighting came after a night of fierce exchanges and signals that Israel might be preparing to invade Gaza. Overnight, the military said it targeted about 150 of the sites Gaza gunmen use to fire rockets at Israel, as well as ammunition warehouses, bringing to 450 the number of sites struck since the operation began Wednesday.

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