Cairo hosts Gaza mediation talks as parties seek to avert Israeli invasion

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Cairo is host to four-way talks on the Gaza crisis Saturday, as regional parties seek to move Hamas and Israel to a cease-fire and avert an Israeli ground invasion of Gaza.

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi is hosting consultations with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Qatari Emir Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, and several Palestinian leaders.

Speaking from Cairo, a senior advisor to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas praised Egyptian mediation efforts, while lamenting Israeli action as further unravelling aspirations for a two state solution.

“President Abbas has consistently offered negotiations for a two-state solution, but Israel has shown no interest in these negotiations,” the senior Abbas adviser told Al-Monitor’s Andrew Parasiliti Saturday. “So this is the result. And the Palestinian people pay the price. We have warned for a while that such a confrontation could be the outcome of the Arab Spring, in the absence of a peace process.”

With regard to the role of Egypt, the Palestinian senior adviser added, “Egypt has a critical role to play for both Palestinian mediation, according to the mandate from the Arab League, and between Israel and Hamas in the present crisis.”

Hours into day four of Operation Pillar of Defense, Israel has hit some 800 targets in Gaza, while Hamas has launched some 750 rockets into Israel, including five in the direction of Tel Aviv and two towards Jerusalem, Yossi Melman reports from Tel Aviv Saturday:

Three Israeli civilians have been killed, and 40 Palestinians, both Hamas combatants and civilians, including children.

Eighty of the attempted Hamas rocket launches have failed, while 27 rockets hit urban areas and caused damage. The Iron Dome anti ballistic missile defense system has intercepted 230 Hamas rockets– about 8 out of 10 rockets it has attempted to intercept in the current confrontation.

Melman estimates that:

Israel is very reluctant to move in with a ground attack. The mobilization of reservists is mainly for psychological purposes to increase pressure on Hamas.

2. The chances of a cease fire are increased.

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi is hosting talks on resolving the crisis in Cairo Saturday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Qatari Emir Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, and Palestinian leaders. Qatar, whose emir recently visited Gaza, holds a lot of influence over Hamas, and has donated $400 million to projects in Gaza. Also involved in the Cairo talks Saturday are exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal and Ramadan Shallah, the leader of the Islamic Jihad, which is responsible for the recent escalation.

3. If there is no ceasefire in the next 72 hours, the IDF might conduct a ground attack, which is very dangerous and will increase the risk of both civilian casualties and Israeli soldiers deaths, Melman writes. An Israeli ground invasion may also trigger three developments, he says: decrease support of the Israeli public in the government, increase the pressure of the international public opinion to end the action, and force Egypt and Jordan to take more severe measure against Israel.

US President Obama, ahead of his trip to Asia, spoke with Morsi and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu on the crisis Friday. While reiterating U.S. support for Israel’s right to defend itself and expressing regret at the loss of loss of life on both sides, Obama and Netanyahu “discussed options for de-escalating the situation,” a White House read-out of the call pointedly noted.

The United States is privately discouraging Israel from launching a ground invasion, fearing it will be bad for Israel, the New York Times reported Friday.

Update 2: Israel has denied that it is sending an envoy to Cairo for mediation talks, but Israeli sources confirmed that the negotiation to achieve a ceasefire is on, Yossi Melman writes in an update Saturday evening.

“There is some indications that there is a possibility of a ceasefire soon, but we do not yet have firm guarantees,” Egypt’s Morsi said in a press conference with Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan in Cairo Saturday, Reuters reported. Morsi warned of “terrible consequences” if there is a land invasion.

–Andrew Parasiliti is editor of Al-Monitor. Yossi Melman is a longtime Israeli national security correspondent and co-author, with Dan Raviv, of a recent book on Israeli intelligence, Spies Against Armageddon.