JERUSALEM – An Israeli Cabinet minister on Monday played down the significance of indirect truce talks with Gaza's Hamas rulers, suggesting any cease-fire deal would be limited in scope.
Yoav Galant's assessment appeared to fall short of what officials from the Islamic militant group Hamas have described as Egyptian efforts to broker a comprehensive agreement, including a significant easing of an 11-year-old border blockade and U.N.-led reconstruction of Gaza.
Galant said what is at issue is a cease-fire, not a full-scale agreement.
"There is no process toward an agreement," he told Israel Army Radio Monday, a day after Israel's Security Cabinet discussed Gaza proposals for several hours. Galant attended the meeting.
The difference in perceptions suggests chances for an agreement are slim.
Tensions have escalated since late March when Hamas launched what would become regular mass protests along Israel's perimeter fence with Gaza. The protests have been aimed, in part, at trying to break the blockade, imposed by Israel and Egypt after Hamas seized the territory in 2007.
Over the past four months, 158 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire, including at least 120 in the protests near the fence and others in Israeli air strikes and other incidents elsewhere in Gaza, according to the Gaza Health Ministry and a local rights group. Twenty-four of slain protesters were minors, the ministry has said. One Israeli soldier was killed by a Gaza sniper during this period.
Israel has rejected accusations of unlawful use of lethal force, alleging that Hamas has used the protests as cover to carry out attacks and infiltrate into its territory.
Some of the protesters typically throw stones, burn tires, try to cut parts of the fence system or set off incendiary balloons and kites with the aim of setting fires in Israel. Fires started by the home-made devices have burned large areas near Gaza, including fields.
In recent weeks, Israel has further tightened Gaza restrictions in response to the incendiary devices, including suspending fuel shipments through Gaza's only cargo crossing.
Galant said the Security Cabinet discussed possible gestures, such as easing the latest restrictions, in exchange for a truce.
Hamas, meanwhile, is desperate to end the blockade, which has made it increasingly difficult for the group to govern and has led to growing hardships in Gaza.