Israeli cabinet debates Egypt proposal on Gaza truce: Radio

JERUSALEM (AFP) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in talks with top ministers on Monday, a government source said, in what was understood to be discussions on how to proceed with the ongoing Gaza operation.

Ministers in Mr Netanyahu's inner circle - the Forum of Nine - were reportedly in talks over whether to agree to a ceasefire or expand the air and naval campaign into a ground operation.

Israeli public radio said the meeting would touch on an Egyptian ceasefire proposal that emerged following a full day of indirect negotiations in Cairo on Sunday between Israeli officials and Palestinian representatives.

The report said Israel wanted to see a 24- to 48-hour truce take effect that could then be used to negotiate the finer details of a full ceasefire agreement.

The radio also stressed that most army attacks on Gaza had halted some two to three hours before the start of the cabinet meeting.

But there was no immediate indication on whether a firm decision on Egypt's proposal would emerge from Monday's meeting. A senior government official refused to confirm the meeting's exact agenda when contacted by AFP.

Mr Netanyahu's reported decision to address a possible truce coincides with a new round of intensive diplomacy with UN chief Ban Ki-moon in the region for meetings with both Israeli and Palestinian officials in the coming days.

The Jewish state had earlier threatened to expand its offensive should Gaza's Hamas rulers fail to rein in the hail of rockets fired at Israel over the past six days.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman insisted that "the first and absolute condition for a truce is stopping all fire from Gaza." A senior Hamas official said the group was ready to hold serious negotiations on a ceasefire proposal that could produce results as early as Monday.

Exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal said that he would be pressing for an end to Israel's six-year-old blockade of Gaza as a precondition for any end to hostilities.

But he stressed: "We are not against a period of calm.

"We are for a ceasefire," Mr Meshaal told reporters in Cairo. "But Israel must stop its aggression." Israel has won support in its position from European leaders and the United States. But he also remains under strong pressure not to launch the first ground invasion of Gaza since a deadly 22-day campaign through New Year 2009.

Analysts believe Israel would closely coordinate any troop movements with the United States and go into Gaza certain of Washington's full diplomatic support.

But US President Barack Obama said on Sunday it would be "preferable" for the Gaza crisis to be resolved without a "ramping up" of Israeli military activity.