JERUSALEM - A diplomatic push to end Israel's nearly weeklong offensive in the Gaza Strip gained momentum Tuesday, with Egypt's president predicting that airstrikes would soon end, the U.S. secretary of state racing to the region and Israel's prime minister saying his country would be a "willing partner" to a cease-fire with the Islamic militant group Hamas.
As international diplomats worked to cement a deal, a senior Hamas official said an agreement was close even as relentless airstrikes and rocket attacks between the two sides continued. The Israeli death toll rose to five with the deaths Tuesday of an Israeli soldier and a civilian contractor. More than 130 Palestinians have been killed.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton held a late-night meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after rushing to the region from Cambodia, where she had accompanied President Barack Obama on a visit.
"The goal must be a durable outcome that promotes regional stability and advances the security and legitimate aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians alike," she said at a news conference with Netanyahu.
Netanyahu said Israel would welcome a diplomatic solution to the crisis but threatened further military activity, saying he was ready to take "whatever action" is necessary.
The comments came after conflicting reports on whether a deal was imminent.
"We haven't struck the deal yet, but we are progressing and it will most likely be tonight," Moussa Abu Marzouk said earlier Tuesday from Cairo, where cease-fire talks were being held. A second Hamas official, Izzat Risheq, said later that a deal might not be reached.
Israeli officials said only that "intensive efforts" were under way to end the fighting. Israeli media quoted Defense Minister Ehud Barak as telling a closed meeting that Israel wanted a 24-hour test period of no rocket fire to see if Hamas could enforce a truce.
In what appeared to be a last-minute burst of heavy fire, Israeli tanks and gunboats shelled targets late Tuesday, and an airstrike killed two brothers riding on a motorcycle. The men weren't identified.