Israel is warning residents of the Gaza Strip that its military offensive against Hamas may soon enter a new, more intense phase. The warning came as cease-fire talks in neighboring Egypt made little apparent headway, and a senior Hamas official said any hope of compromise with Israel was dead.
After scores of airstrikes overnight, Israeli forces appeared to be closing in on Gaza City, the most populated part of the Gaza Strip. Leaflets warning of a new escalation in the fighting were dropped onto the strip.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas arrived early Saturday in the Egyptian capital, where he declared a French-Egyptian cease-fire plan the only viable mechanism for ending the violence. But as the day wore on, it became clear that Egyptian mediation efforts were tangled in conflicting agendas.
Hamas wants Gaza's borders opened, including the one with Egypt. Israel is demanding an end to arms smuggling into Gaza from Egypt. Some negotiators have proposed an international force to monitor the border crossings, but Egypt flatly refused to host foreign troops on its soil. It prefers more technical assistance of the type provided by the U.S. last year to help it locate and close smuggling tunnels.
Abbas suggested international troops be placed inside Gaza, but that offering was quickly rejected by Hamas.
Saturday night, top Hamas political official Khaled Meshaal delivered a fiery speech from the Syrian capital of Damascus, in which he said the Israeli assault on Gaza had accomplished nothing except killing off any hope of peace talks.
"You have put an end to any prospect of compromise," he said, addressing Israel. "No Arab or Palestinian official will be able to promote compromise with you anymore."
He called on Palestinians to keep fighting and said there could be no end to Palestinian rocket attacks until Israel ends its military operation in Gaza.
Despite the defiant rhetoric, a Hamas delegation was in Cairo to listen to the latest proposals for securing an immediate cease-fire, followed by talks aimed at a longer-term agreement.
It's not clear if Meshaal's exhortations for Palestinians to keep fighting, delivered from the safety of Damascus, will inspire Gaza residents. As Israeli soldiers reach the suburbs of Gaza City, many fear that the worst is yet to come.