JERUSALEM — Claiming it had achieved most of its objectives and pressured by Western allies to stop causing civilian casualties in Gaza, Israel moved to wind down its operations there on Monday, either unilaterally or through a new Egyptian-brokered cease-fire announced late in the day.
The Egyptian proposal, which in principle was to start at 8 a.m. local time Tuesday, was created “out of concern for innocent lives and to prevent further bloodshed,” and would initially last for 72 hours, an Egypt Foreign Ministry statement said.
Both Israel and Hamas indicated they would respect the cease-fire, which would be followed by talks on a more lasting arrangement. But given the history of broken cease-fires in the conflict, it was unclear that both sides would honor Egypt’s proposal, which was similar to one previously rejected by Hamas.
Earlier in the day, Israel appeared to be positioning itself to conclude its military operation in Gaza, with or without a formal cease-fire agreement.
With Israeli troops essentially finished destroying Hamas’s tunnels into Israel and having dealt Hamas’s military capacity a significant blow, senior Israeli officials said they were moving troops to defensive positions on both sides of the border.
The army — and especially the air force — will respond to attacks and rocket fire by Hamas and Islamic Jihad, but the hope, Israeli officials say, is that Gaza fighters will not match rhetoric with action and that the conflict will slowly wind down and stop.
Despite the slowing of violence Monday, Israel attacked 38 targets, the Associated Press reported. At least 20 people were killed, including three children: an 8-year-old girl in the Shati refugee camp and a 12-year-old boy and his 5-year-old sister in the southern border town of Rafah, according to Palestinian medical officials.
‘We struck a very severe blow at Hamas and the other terrorist organizations. We have no intention of attacking the residents of Gaza.’
Since July 8, the war has taken nearly 1,900 Palestinian lives, most of them civilians. Sixty-four Israeli soldiers have also died, as well as two Israeli civilians and a Thai laborer who worked in Israel.
The latest Israeli actions in the nearly month-old Gaza conflict are unilateral. After the quick breakdown of last Friday’s cease-fire, negotiated with Hamas through Qatar, Israeli officials said they no longer believed that Hamas would implement agreements. Nor did they want to “reward” Hamas, they said, for its rocket and tunnel war.
But Israel is willing to see what the Egyptian government could achieve with Palestinian negotiators in Cairo. Israel said it is not opposed to a new arrangement with Hamas and the Palestinians, nor did it remove the possibility of renewing the negotiated cease-fire agreement that ended the brief, last conflict in Gaza, in November 2012.
That agreement called for opening the crossings in Gaza, easing the movement of people and transfer of goods, and extending fishing limits.
And Israeli officials said they were conscious of the need for the reconstruction of Gaza, which will require significant imports of building materials, but wanted it supervised by Egypt through Rafah, at the Gaza-Egypt border, or by Israel through its main crossing at Kerem Shalom.
Israel also is concerned about the possible spread of violence carried out by Palestinians enraged over the Gaza conflict.
In an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Jerusalem on Monday, a Palestinian drove a heavy construction vehicle over a pedestrian, killing him, and overturned a nearly empty bus, injuring three people, before police shot the driver to death.
Later, a gunman shot and wounded a soldier at a bus stop near Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, escaping by motorcycle, in what police said was a suspected terrorist attack.
There were no immediate claims of responsibility. But Hamas said in a statement: “We praise the heroic and brave operations in Jerusalem, which come as a natural reaction to the crimes and massacres by the Occupation against our people in Gaza.”
On Monday, the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, met with the southern command of the Israel Defense Forces, which is leading the war in Gaza, and said that the campaign there was continuing.
“What is about to conclude is the I.D.F. action to deal with the tunnels, but this operation will end only when quiet and security are restored to the citizens of Israel for a lengthy period,” Netanyahu said. “We struck a very severe blow at Hamas and the other terrorist organizations. We have no intention of attacking the residents of Gaza.”
Tzipi Livni, an adviser to Netanyahu, said Israel no longer wants to negotiate a cease-fire with Hamas, but would be happy for Egypt and President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority to try.
Livni has been pushing for a unilateral cease-fire to be followed by multilateral diplomacy, with Israel seeking support for the reconstruction of Gaza in return for demilitarization.
Few believe that Hamas will voluntarily disarm or stop trying to resist Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands. But Hamas’s effectiveness may be much weaker.
For Israel, the strategic situation has changed with the takeover in Egypt by the former military general, Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, who a year ago overthrew President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is an ally of Hamas.
Morsi did little to prevent smuggling through tunnels, which gave Hamas tax receipts and a mechanism to import cement, weapons, and military advisers from Iran and Hezbollah, Israeli officials said.