Diplomats intensify efforts to broker Gaza ceasefire
Diplomatic efforts to broker a truce between Israel and Hamas were heightened yesterday as Israeli air strikes killed 21 Palestinians and the Israeli military build-up continued on the Gaza border.
International pressure for a ceasefire was mounting after the highest daily casualty figures of the five-day conflict. An Israeli negotiator flew to Cairo to discuss proposals tabled by Egypt, while US president Barack Obama warned of the dangers of a ground offensive in the Gaza Strip.
The political activity came as an Israeli missile killed at least 11 Palestinian civilians, including four children, in Gaza in an apparent attack on a militant that demolished a three-storey home. Hamas’s armed wing vowed to avenge what it described as the “massacre” of a family.
Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu had earlier assured world leaders that Israel was doing its utmost to avoid civilian casualties.
Militants launched dozens of rockets into Israel and targeted its commercial capital, Tel Aviv, for a fourth day. Israel’s missile shield shot down two rockets over the city as air raid sirens sounded.
The latest violence brought the Palestinian death toll from the air strikes to 69, while more than 600 have been reported injured. Three Israelis have been killed and more than 50 injured by rocket fire since last Wednesday.
In scenes redolent of Israel’s 2008-2009 Gaza invasion, armour, artillery and infantry massed along the border. Mr Netanyahu said the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) were prepared for a “significant expansion” of the operation.
However, Mr Obama warned of the dangers of a ground operation for Gazans and Israelis. He said it would be “preferable” to avoid an invasion of the narrow, densely populated coastal enclave.
“Israel has every right to expect that it does not have missiles fired into its territory,” he said in Bangkok. “If that can be accomplished without a ramping up of military activity in Gaza, that is preferable.”
In Cairo, Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi said his officials were trying to broker a ceasefire. He said there were “some indications that there is a possibility of a ceasefire soon, but we do not yet have firm guarantees”. These contacts were confirmed by Silvan Shalom, one of Mr Netanyahu’s deputies. But he added that they were far from being concluded.
Diplomatic sources in Jerusalem said it would be preferable to achieve the objectives of the military campaign – restoring calm to the south – without a ground offensive. If not, Israel was ready to invade.
The key sticking point in the ceasefire contacts appeared to be the Hamas demand for an Israeli commitment to stop all military actions in the future, while Israel insisted on the right to target rocket-firing crews preparing to launch.
In other air raids, two Gaza City media buildings were hit, according to witnesses. Eight journalists were wounded and an employee of the Beirut-based al Quds television station lost a leg in the attack.
The IDF said the strike targeted a rooftop “transmission antenna used by Hamas to carry out terror activity”; that journalists had in effect been used as human shields by Hamas.
The Israeli military added that 544 rockets had hit Israel since Wednesday. – Additional reporting by Mark Weiss