The Latest: UN chief welcomes cease-fire, urges negotiations

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Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, right, and his German counterpart Heiko Maas shake hands during a press conference at the Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, Israel Thursday, May 20, 2021. (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP)

UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations chief is urging Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers to observe their cease-fire, and he says the international community must develop a reconstruction package “that supports the Palestinian people and strengthens their institutions.”

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters after Thursday’s announcement of an end to 11 days of deadly clashes that “Israeli and Palestinian leaders have a responsibility beyond the restoration of calm to start a serious dialogue to address the root causes of the conflict.”

Guterres says the U.N. is ready to work with Israel, the Palestinians, and international and regional partners to return to “meaningful negotiations” on a two-state settlement based on territorial lines before the 1967 war.

He says Hamas-controlled “Gaza is an integral part of the future Palestinian state and no effort should be spared to bring about real national reconciliation that ends the division” with the rival Fatah-led Palestinian Authority that governs the West Bank.

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GAZA CITY — Hamas is calling the Gaza cease-fire “a victory” for the militant group in its struggle against Israel.

Senior Hamas official Khalil al-Hayya made that characterization while addressing a rally in Gaza City.

Al-Hayya claims Israel failed to destroy Hamas’ military infrastructure, and says the group’s fighters are still “striding proudly” in the underground tunnels.

He did not reveal the terms of the deal.

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JERUSALEM — The top United Nations envoy to Israel and the Palestinian territories is welcoming the cease-fire in the latest war between Israel and the Hamas- militant group that rules Gaza.

Tor Wennesland said early Friday on Twitter that he extends his “deepest condolences to the victims of the violence & their loved ones.”

He also thanks Egypt and Qatar for their work with the U.N. in brokering the deal that ended 11 days of fighting.

He adds that now “the work of building #Palestine can start.”

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GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip are taking to the streets to celebrate the cease-fire reached after an 11-day war between Hamas and Israel.

At 2:00 a.m., just as the cease-fire took effect, frenzy of life returned to the streets of Gaza. People went out from their homes in the night for the first time since the war began, shouting “Allahu Akbar,” whistling from balconies, and many firing in the air.

More rallies are expected across the Gaza Strip later Friday.

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is hailing the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas ending an 11-day war.

Biden spoke from the White House shortly before the ceasefire was set to go into effect in Gaza, where Israel has struck hundreds of targets in retaliation for Hamas firing thousands of rockets into its territory.

Says Biden: “I believe we have a genuine opportunity to make progress and I’m committed to working for it.”

Biden said the U.S. was committed to helping Israel replenish its supply of interceptor missiles for its Iron Dome protection system and to working with the Palestinian Authority – not Hamas — to provide humanitarian aid to Gaza.

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GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The Hamas militant group says it has accepted the Egyptian proposal to end an 11-day war with Israel that killed scores of people, caused widespread destruction in the Gaza Strip and brought life in much of Israel to a standstill.

Taher Nounou, a Hamas official, confirmed the deal. He posted a statement on WhatsApp late on Thursday, saying: “The Palestinian resistance will commit itself to this deal as long as the occupation is committed.”

Earlier, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said Israel had accepted the truce proposal after a late-night meeting of his Security Cabinet. Egypt’s state-run MENA news agency said the truce would take effect at 2 a.m., roughly three hours after the announcement.

The White House said President Joe Biden would deliver remarks on the cease-fire later in the afternoon, Washington time, on Thursday.

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BEIRUT — An official from the Palestinian militant Hamas group says Israel’s declaration of a cease-fire represents a defeat for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and “a victory to the Palestinian people.”

Ali Barakeh, a member of Hamas’ Arab and Islamic relations bureau, told The Associated Press that the militants will remain on alert until they hear from mediators who have been working for days between Hamas and Israel.

Hamas officials haves said that they have been contacted by officials from Russia, Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations to reach a truce with Israel. He added that once Hamas hears back from the mediators, its leadership will hold discussions and will make an announcement after that.

Barakeh spoke just minutes after Netanyahu’s office on Thursday announced a cease-fire to halt the 11-day military operation against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip. A statement said Netanyahu’s Security Cabinet unilaterally approved the Egyptian-mediated proposal.

It appears the two sides were still negotiating exactly when the cease-fire would take effect. Multiple reports said it would go into effect at 2 a.m., just over three hours after the cabinet’s decision.

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UNITED NATIONS — Israel’s U.N. ambassador says his country wants a cease-fire in its conflict with Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers “but only after significantly degrading Hamas’ terror machine.”

Gilad Erdan told Thursday’s emergency in-person meeting of the U.N. General Assembly on the conflict that “we are looking for a cure and not a band-aid.”

He said that “Israel will take all steps necessary to protect its civilians while making every effort to avoid harming Palestinian civilians.”

Erdan accused the 193-member General Assembly of “hypocrisy” in supporting Hamas, which every day is firing hundreds of rockets indiscriminately into Israel.

He stressed that Hamas doesn’t accept Israel’s right to exist and refuses to renounce violence.

He warned that if the U.N. “strengthens Hamas, it will make the possibility of Hamas replacing the Palestinian Authority much more likely and eliminate the chance of future dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians.”

He stressed “there is nothing to discuss with a terror organization committed to your annihilation, nothing.”

The Israeli ambassador also lashed out at “the demonization of Israel,” saying it is spurring “sickening anti-Semitic attacks” and singling out Turkey.

Erdan said there has never been “a clearer example of the fact that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism” and called on all governments to take swift action to protect Jewish communities and apprehend perpetrators.

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WASHINGTON — The White House says that reports of a move toward a cease-fire between Israel and the militant Hamas group that rules the Gaza Strip are “clearly encouraging” but cautioned that a truce has yet to be agreed on.

Press secretary Jen Psaki said on Thursday that the White House believes the Israelis have “achieved significant military objectives” in their strikes against Hamas targets, which is why President Joe Biden expects them to start “winding down” their operation there.

Psaki says the Biden administration has conveyed that to the Israeli side “and that is what we expect to happen.”

Psaki added that Biden’s comments to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, calling for de-escalation, were “a reflection of what we’re seeing on the ground.”

She said the United States’ “strategic approach here is to communicate directly, stay closely interlocked with the Israelis, with partners on the ground, to do everything we can to bring an end to the conflict.”

She also said the U.S. has “held more than 80 engagements with senior leaders in Israel, the Palestinian Authority and across the region.”

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UNITED NATIONS — The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations says the United States will continue “to relentlessly push for peace” between Israel and Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers.

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the U.S. has held more than 60 diplomatic meetings at the highest levels over the past two weeks, including at least five by President Joe Biden, to try to quickly end the conflict.

She spoke on Thursday at an emergency in-person meeting of the U.N. General Assembly and underscored that the U.S. administration is committed to working with Israelis, Palestinians and parties across the Middle East to stop the hostilities.

She said: “I don’t believe there is any country working more urgently or fervently toward peace.”

Thomas-Greenfield reiterated that in Biden’s phone call with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, the president said “we believe Israel is now in a position to begin winding down the conflict, and that we expect a significant de-escalation to begin.”

She said the Biden administration is committed to working with other countries “to bring a rapid end to the current violence and, over the longer term, create the conditions for a lasting, sustainable peace.”

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UNITED NATIONS — The top Palestinian diplomat is accusing Israel of committing “genocide” against Palestinian families and urging the international community to protect the Palestinian people until their freedom is assured.

Foreign Minister Riad Al-Malki told Thursday’s emergency meeting of the U.N. General Assembly on the conflict between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers that “every country in the world has a responsibility to ensure that peace, justice and freedom prevail.”

He urged the assembly ensure that Israel is held accountable for killing innocent Palestinians and is not provided with arms. He said the presence of a dozen ministers, almost all from Arab and Islamic countries, sends a clear message: “Stop the violence.”

The Palestinian minister responded to Israel’s claims of acting in self-defense by saying: “How can an occupying power have the right to defend itself when a whole people under occupation is deprived of the very same rights?”

Al-Malki said the Palestinians have informed the Biden administration and the Quartet of Mideast mediators — the U.S., U.N., European Union and Russia — that “ending occupation against our people and our holy sites should be followed by a political process” that would lead to ending the Israeli occupation of Palestine and its capital.”

So far in the deadly conflict, Palestinian militants have fired more than 4,000 rockets at Israel from Gaza and Israel has hit the territory with relentless airstrikes in response.

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GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The International Committee for the Red Cross is calling for a temporary cessation of hostilities between Israel and the militant Hamas group in the Gaza Strip to allow people time to shop for their basic needs.

Mirjam Muller, head of the ICRC sub-delegation in Gaza, said on Thursday that such “a breather” would allow people to buy food, see doctors and “have a little bit of time to digest what is happening to them.”

She says “a couple of hours” for people to move around safely “would be really important right now and we are calling for that.”

The latest war between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers is now in its 11th day and people in the Gaza Strip are staying mostly holed up in their homes or have fled to schools-turned-shelters. Muller says Israeli airstrikes and outgoing rocket attacks by Palestinian militants have been “extremely intense” and that people feel “they can’t breathe anymore.”

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JERUSALEM — Israel’s defense minister says the military is prepared to expand its campaign against Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip, despite ongoing international efforts to reach a cease-fire.

The minister, Benny Gantz, said on Thursday that Israeli forces are “turning the clock back on Hamas and it won’t be able to recover.”

He spoke during a tour of Israeli artillery batteries near the Gaza border and said that Israeli troops are operating “with full resolve” and “in a politically responsible manner” as the fighting neared the end of its 11th day.

The latest, fourth war between Israel and Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers erupted on May 10. So far in the conflict, Palestinian militants have fired more than 4,000 rockets at Israel from the Gaza Strip, some hitting deeper in Israeli territory and with greater accuracy than ever before.

Israel has hit the territory with relentless airstrikes, and at least 230 Palestinians have been killed, including 65 children and 39 women. The casualty tolls are from the Gaza Health Ministry, which does not break the numbers down into fighters and civilians.

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UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. chief is urging an immediate cease-fire between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers at the start of a U.N. General Assembly emergency meeting.

The session is expected to hear from about 100 speakers, including 12 ministers mainly from Arab and Islamic countries.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told Thursday’s in-person meeting in the assembly chamber that he and the U.N. Mideast envoy are engaged in “extensive diplomatic efforts” in the region, including with Egypt, Jordan and Qatar, to stop the fighting.

He called on all members of the international community “to do everything in their power to enable the parties to conflict to step back from the brink.”

The U.N. chief also called on Israel and Hamas “to allow for mediation efforts to intensify in order to bring the fighting to an end.”

Guterres implicitly criticized Israel and Hamas for violating “the laws of war” which ban indiscriminate attacks and attacks against civilians and civilian property as well as attacks on military targets that cause disproportionate civilian casualties. He said “counter-terrorism or self-defense” are not justifications.

He urged Israeli authorities to abide by the laws, “including the proportionate use of force” and called on them “to exercise maximum restraint in the conduct of military operations.” He urged Hamas and other militant groups “to stop the indiscriminate launching of rockets and mortars from highly populated civilian neighborhoods into civilian population centers in Israel.”

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WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders is leading a long-shot effort to halt a $735 million arms sale to Israel as Democrats in the U.S. Congress raise mounting concerns about the violence in the Middle East.

The Vermont senator introduced a resolution on Thursday to block the weapons transfer. A similar measure in the House was introduced Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat from New York, and liberal lawmakers on Wednesday.

Sanders says that Congress needs to “take a hard look at whether the sale of these weapons is actually helping do that, or whether it is simply fueling conflict.”

Supporters of this effort are unlikely to have the votes needed to reverse the sale, but they’re racing the clock to register opposition under a review period that expires this week.

The opposition to what had been a routine transfer of arms shows the increasing unrest on Capitol Hill from key Democrats over Israel’s handling of the conflict with Hamas in Gaza.

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KARACHI, Pakistan — About 200 members of civil society have rallied in Pakistan’s southern port city of Karachi, demanding an immediate end to Israel’s campaign in the Gaza Strip and violence in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem.

The protesters on Thursday chanted slogans against Israel and in support of the Palestinians. Pakistanis are also expected to hold nationwide anti-Israel rallies on Friday, the Muslim day of prayer.

Thursday’s rally comes hours after Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi flew to New York to address the U.N. General Assembly to condemn Israel’s strikes on Palestine.

Pakistan is among few countries that do not have diplomatic ties with Israel.

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JERUSALEM — Israel’s opposition leader is leveling severe criticism at the government’s handling of the war against Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.

Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid wrote on Thursday on Facebook that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has failed in developing a concrete policy regarding the Gaza Strip, and has jeopardized Israel’s relations with the Biden administration with this latest conflict.

Lapid writes: “After 11 days of this operation, every Israeli citizen will ask themselves: What did the government really want to achieve with this military operation? What is its policy and strategic long-term aim concerning Hamas in Gaza?”

Earlier this month, Lapid was tasked with forming a government. That happened less than a week before the outbreak of fighting between Israel and Hamas and after Netanyahu failed to build a governing coalition following the March 23 elections.

Netanyahu has pushed back against calls from the U.S. to wind down the Gaza offensive, appearing determined to inflict maximum damage on Hamas in a war that could help save his political career.

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JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Iran was behind an armed drone that Israel intercepted after entering its airspace this week.

Netanyahu said during a meeting with visiting German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in Tel Aviv on Thursday that “Iran sent an armed drone to Israel from Iraq or from Syria” that crossed into Israel from Jordanian airspace before it was intercepted.

Netanyahu told Maas that “while we’re fighting on various fronts, the true backer of much of this aggression is Iran,” pointing to its support for Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant groups.

Netanyahu’s remarks came as Israel unleashed another wave of airstrikes across the Gaza Strip early Thursday, killing at least one Palestinian and wounding several. Meanwhile, Hamas fired more rockets, even as expectations rose that a cease-fire could be coming.

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GENEVA — The U.N.’s top human rights body said Thursday it will hold a special session next week to address “the grave human rights situation” in Palestinian areas in Gaza, the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

The Human Rights Council will convene the May 27 meeting following a request presented by Pakistan, as coordinator of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation.

The session at the 47-member state body in Geneva paves the way for a day-long debate over the recent deadly violence between Israelis and Palestinians in the Mideast conflict that has raged for decades.

More than 60 states — including member states and observer states — have so far expressed support for the special session, council spokesman Rolando Gomez said.

The United States, under President Donald Trump, quit the council in mid-2018 — partially over the administration’s allegations that the council has an anti-Israel bias. President Joe Biden has returned the U.S. to participation at the council, and the U.S. plans to seek a seat next year.

Israel’s ambassador in Geneva, Meirav Eilon Shahar, called on member states to “strongly oppose this meeting.”

“The convening of yet another special session by the Human Rights Council targeting Israel is testament to the clear anti-Israel agenda of this body,” she wrote on Twitter.

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BEIJING — China says it has been “actively engaged in mediation” toward ending the ongoing violence between Israel and the Palestinians.

Special envoy for the Middle East, Zhai Jun, has spoken with officials of the Palestinian and Egyptian foreign ministries and will also speak with representatives of Israel, Russia, the United Nations, the European Union and other parties, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told reporters on Thursday.

Zhao said the envoy was calling for an immediate ceasefire, strengthening assistance to Palestine, and reiterating (China’s) firm commitment to the two-state solution.”

He said Beijing would like to host negotiations between the two sides in China and is willing to provide humanitarian and other types of assistance to the Palestinian side “within its capabilities.”

China has long been a strong supporter of the Palestinian cause but also maintains robust ties with Israel. The country has criticized the U.S. for blocking the adoption of a United Nations resolution calling for an end to the fighting in Gaza.

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BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel says that “indirect contacts” with the Hamas militant group, such as those maintained by some Arab countries, are necessary to defuse the situation in the Middle East.

Speaking in Berlin as her foreign minister visited Israel and the West Bank on Thursday, Merkel downplayed how much Germany alone can do to help defuse the situation.

Merkel said at an event organized by WDR public television: “Everything we are doing, and the foreign minister is doing, must be seen in the context of American efforts and the efforts of other European states.” She added: “I don’t think we alone will be the decisive factor there, but we can make a contribution” along with the U.S., other Europeans and Britain.

Germany has placed the blame for the latest war in the Middle East squarely on Hamas and what it calls the group’s “rocket terror.”

Asked whether she would back someone speaking with the group, Merkel replied: “Of course there have to be indirect contacts with Hamas. Egypt speaks to Hamas and so do other Arab countries.”

She added that Egypt is a “very, very important quantity” in cease-fire efforts and “that can’t be done without any contact with Hamas — it doesn’t always have to be done directly. But of course Hamas has to be involved in a certain way, because without Hamas there is no cease-fire.”

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BERLIN — Germany’s foreign minister says his visit to the Mideast is intended as a show of solidarity with Israeli and Palestinian civilians suffering from the latest eruption of conflict, and part an effort to push for a cease-fire and resumption of peace talks.

Heiko Maas said ahead of his departure Thursday that “Germany stands unconditionally to its friendship with Israel, which must defend itself against the rocket terror by Hamas.”

He said that Palestinians can also rely on his country’s humanitarian support even in difficult times.

Maas, who plans to meet the Israeli president, foreign minister and defense minister, as well as the Palestinian prime minister, during his one day trip, said the international community must find a way to help end the violence.

He called for talks on a path back to peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians “even if they seem miles away at the moment.”

Maas said he hoped the Mideast Quartet comprising the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations could play an “active role” in seeking a peaceful solution to the conflict soon.

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UNITED NATIONS — The United States opposes a draft U.N. Security Council resolution calling for a cease-fire in the conflict between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers. The U.S. says it could interfere with the Biden administration’s efforts to end the hostilities.

France drafted the resolution after the U.S. earlier blocked at least four attempts to have the council issue a press statement calling for an end to hostilities.

A press statement requires agreement by all 15 council members. A resolution only requires at least nine “yes” votes and no veto by the United States or any of the four other permanent members.

A French spokesman had said “very intense discussions” were taking place Wednesday with the U.S. on the proposed resolution.

But the U.S. Mission to the U.N. said later “that we will not support actions that we believe undermine efforts to de-escalate.”

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UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees is urgently appealing for $38 million for emergency needs in Gaza as a result of conflict between Israel and the territory’s Hamas rulers.

The U.N. Relief and Works Agency said Wednesday that it is already responding to the humanitarian needs of refugees and non-refugees, including tens of thousands of people who have sought safety in the agency’s schools and emergency shelters.

The agency says the $38 million is needed for an initial 30-day period to respond to a variety of immediate needs in Gaza including food, health care, psychological services, and water and sanitation. It also includes emergency needs in the West Bank, including east Jerusalem, for health care, shelter, education, security and protection.

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BEIRUT — The leader the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group says militant factions in Gaza went into the latest battle with Israel knowing it will be “costly but also knowing that it is the only road to freedom and to protect Jerusalem.”

Ziad Nakhaleh said in a televised speech from Beirut on Wednesday that neither nuclear weapons, warplanes nor peace agreements with some Arab states could bring Israelis security and peace.

He added that militant groups in Gaza have “made miracles that you can see with your own eyes and you live them every moment when you run to shelters.”

Nakhaleh was referring to thousands of missiles and rockets that Gaza militants have fired toward Israel.

Nakhaleh said that after Israel’s moves that threatened the eviction of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers in east Jerusalem, “we were in front of two choices, to surrender and to give them everything or fight them over everything.”

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JERUSALEM — Israel’s Foreign Ministry says foreign ministers from Germany, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia will arrive in Israel on Thursday.

The ministry said in a statement Wednesday that the diplomats were invited by Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi “to express their solidarity and support” for Israel during its campaign against Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.

The visit comes as Israel faces mounting international pressure to de-escalate hostilities after 10 days of heavy fighting between Israelis and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

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JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he is “determined to continue this operation until its aim is met,” despite U.S. President Joe Biden’s call for a de-escalation of hostilities in Gaza.

In a statement from his office Wednesday, Netanyahu said that he “greatly appreciates the support of the American president,” but said Israel will push ahead “to return the calm and security to you, citizens of Israel.”

Earlier, Biden called for “significant de-escalation” by day’s end from Netanyahu after 10 days of heavy fighting between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

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CAIRO — An Egyptian diplomat says some of the country’s top officials are waiting for Israel’s response to a cease-fire offer, and that they expect amendments to their proposal.

He says they hope France’s increasing efforts could spur the United States to exert its influence on Israel and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to agree to stop the fighting as soon as possible.

He added that if that doesn’t happen, there are some discussions among Arab and Islamic nations, along with China, to put the issue before the U.N. General Assembly in an effort to bypass the Security Council and the U.S.’s veto power there.

The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

Egypt has been trying to broker a cease-fire between neighboring Israel and Hamas, as it is one of a handful of countries that maintains official ties with both.

— Samy Magdy in Cairo.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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