Egyptian mediators proposed a plan late Monday to halt a weeklong artillery exchange between Israelis and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip that has taken at least 175 Palestinian lives and sent millions of Israelis scrambling for cover from more than 1,000 rocket firings.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called a meeting of government ministers for early Tuesday, and one government source speaking on condition of anonymity said the proposal was "being considered very seriously." Israel's Haaretz newspaper cited an unnamed government official as saying Netanyahu "supports the Egyptian proposal for cease-fire in Gaza and will ask the Cabinet to accept it."
There had been no Israeli deaths in the conflict as of early Tuesday.
Publicly, Israeli and Palestinian leaders lashed out at the plan as little more than a "timeout" in the third deadly flare-up between the two sides since 2009.
At least half the fatalities in the bombardment of the densely populated Gaza coastal region have been civilians, both sides say. On Monday, the soaring toll prompted the Palestinian Authority to appeal for United Nations protection.
In a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas asked that an urgent meeting of the U.N. Security Council be convened to respond to his request for international protection of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
The Egyptian Foreign Ministry proposal calls on both sides to observe a cease-fire within 12 hours of acceptance and to sit down with mediators in Cairo within 48 hours of suspending all land, sea and air strikes.
There was no formal reply by Abbas, and officials of the Hamas militia that controls Gaza were scornful.
"There is no real effort yet, and none of the offers meet the conditions and demands necessary for the level of blood spilled," a Hamas official told The Times, citing the proposal's failure to require the lifting of Israel's blockade of the Palestinian territory or the opening of all border crossings with Egypt and Israel.
Hamas also demands the release of Palestinians jailed in recent Israeli military sweeps, an end to all aggression against Palestinian territory and a halt to Israeli attempts to disrupt the work of the Palestinians' national unity government, the militia official said.
A spokesman for the Izzidin al-Qassam Brigade, the military wing of Hamas, said via Twitter that its members would be the ones to "determine how the current round with the Zionist enemy will end and on what terms."
Israeli hard-liners were also critical of the Egyptian proposal. Economy Minister Naftali Bennett said Israel didn't need a cease-fire, but rather a complete extinguishing of the fire directed at it by Hamas.
"This is the chance to change things so that we don't arrive at the exact same point in six months' time," he told Channel 2 television.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said a cease-fire alone would be worthless if it led only to a "timeout" before the next round of fighting.
While officials on both sides postured over the proposal, heavy airstrikes continued to pound the Gaza Strip. At least four people were killed in Rafah on Monday, one of them a young girl, residents said. Air raid sirens also sounded throughout southern Israel as rockets flew from Gaza and in the Golan Heights as projectiles from Syria landed in Israel for the third time in 24 hours. There were also reported rocket firings over the Red Sea resort of Eilat.
A new player entered the scene Monday, as a drone launched from Gaza penetrated Israeli airspace before being shot down by a Patriot antiaircraft battery. It was reportedly the first such interception in the two decades since Patriots were deployed in Israel during the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
Monday also saw the first Palestinian casualty in the current fight from outside the Gaza Strip, a 21-year-old shot and killed south of the West Bank city of Hebron during confrontations with Israeli soldiers. Munir Badarin was shot in the leg and left without medical attention until he bled to death, Palestinians reported.
Weighing of the cease-fire proposal coincides with a flurry of diplomacy expected Tuesday. U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier are expected in Jerusalem, as is former British Prime Minister Tony Blair in his capacity as special envoy of the so-called Middle East quartet pursuing peace and prosperity in the region.
Blair said in a statement that he welcomed the Egyptian proposal, "but as I have said throughout this latest crisis, the only long-term solution that makes sense is one that gives hope to the people of Gaza that it will be opened back up to the world and its people allowed peace from violence of all kinds, and one which gives Israel real and permanent security from rocket attacks, tunnels and terrorism."
The Obama administration expressed its support for Israel's right to defend itself. But White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest also said the United States was "very concerned about those Palestinian civilians who are in harm's way, and that's why we've been urging Israeli political leaders and Palestinian leaders to do everything necessary to try to safeguard the safety and well-being of civilians on both sides of the border."