The Israeli-Palestinian conflict escalated on Thursday as it moved to the brink of ground intervention by Israeli troops in Gaza, in the hope that a difficult international mediation could save a fourth war between Israel and Hamas.
The worst escalation of violence since the 2014 war has left at least 103 dead in Gaza and several hundred wounded, in addition to seven others killed in Israel, while heavy rioting is reported in Israel's mixed cities, with lynchings between Arabs and Jews.
An Egyptian delegation arrived today in Tel Aviv to try to get the parties to reach a cease-fire in Gaza - governed de facto by the Palestinian Islamist Hamas movement - before a possible Israeli ground operation in the enclave, security sources in Cairo confirmed to Efe.
The Egyptian delegation discussed with its Israeli counterpart the possibility of such a cease-fire, although Israel was "intransigent" and insisted on the need for "an offensive to respond to Hamas attacks," the same sources said.
After weeks of growing tension in occupied East Jerusalem, the Al Qasam Brigades, Hamas' military wing, and Islamic Jihad militias began firing rockets from the strip on Monday, more than 1,750 since then.
In retaliation, the Israeli army launched on the same day aerial bombardments that are still continuing today, in addition to deploying more troops on the Gaza border, leaving open the option of a ground intervention.
"We have ground units ready and they are in various stages of preparation for ground operations," said Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman for Israel, which has mobilized thousands of reservists to calm civil unrest in the mixed cities.
Egypt, mediator between Israel and Hamas, is the only country with a chance of achieving results, as it has a direct dialogue with this Palestinian group, considered terrorist by the United States, the EU and a large part of the international community.
In fact, Egypt - which negotiates together with the UN and Qatar - has always been the key piece to lower the tension between Israel and Hamas, not only in the previous wars of 2008, 2012 and 2014, but also in the frequent peaks of violence, the latest in 2019.
Another Egyptian delegation went to the Gaza Strip yesterday to discuss the terms of a truce with Hamas representatives, although no details of the talks transpired.
These Egyptian-led contacts come as the U.S. State Department's Deputy Assistant Secretary for Palestinian and Israeli Affairs Hady Amr is expected to arrive in Israel to try to douse the crossfire between the parties, but no dates have yet been specified.
However, these mediation efforts by Egypt and the US are surrounded by skepticism in the face of the unwillingness of the parties to achieve détente and threats of renewed attacks.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself confirmed to his security cabinet on Wednesday that he had rejected a Russian ceasefire proposal and approved intensifying attacks on Palestinian militias.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and UN Secretary General António Guterres today joined the international community's calls for an end to hostilities, called for "ensuring the safety of the civilian population" and reiterated their support for the "principle of a two-state solution", in a telematic meeting on the occasion of the Portuguese diplomat's visit to Moscow.
Guterres advocated the resumption of the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians and expressed his willingness to convene an urgent meeting of the Middle East Quartet (Russia, USA, UN and the European Union), something that has not taken place so far.
Also speaking on the wave of violence was the European Union High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, who admitted that the EU does not have the capacity to resolve the tension in the area.
"Who has at the moment the capacity to put pressure on Israel is only the US. Europe has not had it for a long time," he acknowledged.
While the visit of the US envoy is taking place, US President Joe Biden spoke the day before with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to whom he conveyed his "unwavering support for Israel's right to defend itself".
The head of US diplomacy, Anthony Blinken, also condemned the firing of rockets into Israel in a call with the President of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), Mahmoud Abbas, and stressed "the need to de-escalate tensions and put an end to the current violence".
However, Abbas only rules in the West Bank, territorially separate from the Gaza Strip, and lacks leadership in the other protests and factors that preceded the escalation of tension in occupied East Jerusalem.
The United States on Wednesday held back a possible UN Security Council statement on the conflict at an emergency closed-door meeting, saying it would not be helpful in de-escalating tensions.
Aligned with the Palestinian militias, Iran and Qatar on Thursday urged "an immediate end to the Israeli aggression against the Palestinian nation" after Iranian President Hasan Rohani and the emir of Qatar, Tamin bin Hamad al Zani, held a telephone conversation.