Gaza counts its dead as Israel plans invasion
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed a “significant expansion” of Israel’s military onslaught, even as an Israeli envoy was reported to be travelling to Cairo for ceasefire talks with Egyptian mediators.
Nabeel Sha’ath, a senior Fatah official, has been dispatched to Gaza by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to intercede with the leaders of the rival Hamas group.
The UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon has joined the chorus of prominent officials calling for a ceasefire as the pounding of Gaza entered its sixth day.
He is expected to visit Cairo to join talks aimed at bringing an end to the current escalation of the ongoing conflict – which has already claimed the lives of eighty-six Palestinians and three Israelis in six days.
The Israeli army said it had targeted 80 sites overnight, among them police stations, weapons facilities and militant-owned buildings.
At least 24 Palestinians were killed by Israeli air and artillery attacks during yesterday – and Palestinian sources said 18 people were killed in the raids overnight.
Yesterday was the bloodiest since Operation Pillar of Defence began last Wednesday with the assassination of the Hamas military chief, Ahmed al-Jabari. Israel said the commander of the Hamas rocket unit was among yesterday’s targets.
Eleven Palestinian civilians were reported killed when an Israeli missile levelled their home in Gaza City’s Sheikh Radwan neighbourhood in an apparent strike against the home of a senior Hamas militant. The Palestinian Ma’an News Agency said that four women and four children from the same family were among the dead.
“The IDF is prepared for a significant expansion of its operations,” Mr Netanyahu warned as the cabinet approved the mobilisation of 75,000 troops. Roads were blocked as thousands of reservists and military transporters loaded with tanks and armoured cars rumbled southwards.
With rumours of an imminent ground offensive, other countries in the region moved to try and find a negotiated settlement.
In Cairo, President Mohammed Morsi was reported to be putting intense pressure on Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal to agree to a ceasefire. Egyptian officials confirmed that an Israeli envoy had arrived in the city but radicals on both sides appeared to be digging in their heels.
Ziad Nakhleh, deputy leader of Islamic Jihad, told the Al Hayat daily it was time to teach Israel a lesson.
“We don’t fear them, the resistance is too strong and capable of confronting them,” said Mr Nakhleh. “We hit the belly of Israel. The prime minister and leaders of Israel were forced to go to shelters. Israel wants calm. Egypt wants it to stop the bloodshed. We also want to preserve our dignity as Palestinians. The siege on Gaza Strip should be lifted, the crossings should be opened, the Palestinians should be treated well. We will not accept a humiliating offer.”