Hamas truce proposals given to Israel
An Israeli official travelled home from Cairo last night bringing Hamas truce proposals as efforts to achieve a ceasefire to end the fighting in Gaza went into top gear.
On the ground, at least 11 Palestinian civilians, including four children and four women, were killed in an Israeli air strike on a three-storey residential building. The military wing of Hamas issued a statement vowing to avenge what it termed “the massacre” of the Dula family.
Day five of Israel’s operation Pillar of Defence left at least 25 Palestinians dead, most of them civilians, the highest daily casualty figure to date. At least 69 Palestinians have been killed. Three Israeli civilians were killed last week from militant rocket fire.
Israeli officials said it was becoming increasingly difficult to hit militant targets without civilian casualties because the weapon caches are deliberately located in heavily built-up areas. Military officials said hundreds of targets remain, but Israel remains reluctant to risk large-scale Palestinian civilian casualties.
Such calculations indicate Israel may be willing to sign up to a ceasefire, even though 40,000 troops remain poised on the Gaza border, awaiting orders for a ground offensive. Diplomatic sources in Jerusalem made it clear it would be preferable to achieve the objectives of the military campaign – restoring quiet to the south – without a ground offensive. If not, Israel was ready to invade.
US president Barack Obama and Palestinian officials spoke yesterday of the possibility of a ceasefire within 48 hours.
Egypt, co-ordinating with Washington, is playing the leading mediation effort, although Turkey and Qatar are also reportedly involved. France’s foreign minister Laurent Fabius, who held talks in Jerusalem yesterday, joined the efforts. His German counterpart, Guido Westerwelle, is due in the region today.
A ceasefire agreement is likely to include an Israeli commitment to reopen its border crossings with Gaza, although Hamas is more concerned to have the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt open on a permanent basis. Yesterday, despite the fighting, Israel allowed 80 trucks carrying food and medicine to cross into Gaza.
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 crews preparing to launch rockets.
Prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu said the first step towards a ceasefire must be a total cessation of the rocket fire from Gaza, and he warned that Israel was ready for “a significant expansion” of the operation.
Defence minister Ehud Barak said: “We are in a state of conflict with Hamas which is not over and we may need to see bigger, more aggressive actions. The reserve forces are ready. We shall do whatever it takes to lift the threat, to bolster our deterrence and pound Hamas and the jihad with force in order to restore calm.”
Despite the Israeli attacks, militants fired more than 100 rockets yesterday. The rocket fire from Gaza continued yesterday throughout the day. Some analysts said the militants were firing everything they had left, believing a truce might be close.
Sirens sounded in Tel Aviv, Israel’s biggest city, for the fourth consecutive day. Tel Aviv-bound rockets were intercepted in the morning and evening by Israel’s iron dome anti-missile system.
The system has become a key element in the conflict, keeping Israeli casualties to a minimum. It determines within seconds which projectiles are heading for urban areas and intercepts them mid-air. Only 3½ per cent of rockets fired from Gaza have landed in built-up areas.