Israel pounds Gaza as rocket fire wanes; talks in Egypt
Ten civilians and two field commanders from the Islamic Jihad faction were killed and at least 30 other Palestinians were hurt in the new air strikes, hospital officials said, bringing the death toll from six days of clashes in Gaza to 85.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was due to arrive in Cairo to weigh in on ceasefire efforts led by Egypt, which borders both Israel and Gaza and whose Islamist-rooted government has been hosting leaders of Hamas.
Israeli media said a delegation from Israel had also been to Cairo for truce talks, though a spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government declined comment on the matter.
The Gaza flare-up, and Israel’s signalling that it could soon escalate from the aerial bombings to a ground sweep of the cramped and impoverished enclave, have stoked the worries of world powers watching an already combustible region.
As Hamas and other Islamist factions spurn permanent peace with the Jewish state, mediated deals for each to hold fire unilaterally have been the only formula for stemming bloodshed in the past. But each side now placed the onus on the other.
Izzat Risheq, aide to Hamas politburo chief Khaled Meshaal, wrote on Facebook that Hamas would enter a truce only after Israel “stops its aggression, ends its policy of targeted assassinations and lifts the blockade of Gaza”.
Listing Israel’s terms, Vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon wrote on Twitter: “If there is quiet in the south and no rockets and missiles are fired at Israel’s citizens, nor terrorist attacks engineered from the Gaza Strip, we will not attack.”
Yaalon also said Israel wanted an end to Gaza guerrilla activity in the neighbouring Egyptian Sinai, a desert peninsula where lawlessness has spread during Cairo’s political crises.
Israel’s operation has so far drawn Western support for what U.S. and European leaders have called its right to self-defence in the face of years of cross-border attacks, but there have also been growing appeals for an end to the hostilities.
Sympathy for Israel may wear thin as the Gaza toll mounts. On Sunday, 11 Palestinian civilians were apparently killed during an Israeli attack on a militant which brought a three-storey family home crashing down on them.
“I am deeply saddened by the reported deaths of more than ten members of the Dalu family… (and) by the continuing firing of rockets against Israeli towns, which have killed several Israeli civilians. I strongly urge the parties to cooperate with all efforts led by Egypt to reach an immediate ceasefire,” Ban said before leaving for Egypt. He visits Israel on Tuesday.
At least 22 of the Gaza fatalities have been children.