Black smoke rises after an Israeli air strike in the
central Gaza Strip. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis
Israel continued to bomb dozens of targets in the Gaza
Strip and said that while it was prepared to step up its
offensive by sending in troops, it preferred a diplomatic
solution that would end Palestinian rocket fire.
Mediator Egypt said a deal for a truce to end the fighting
could be close. T he leader of Hamas said it was up to Israel
to end the new conflict it had started. Israel says its
strikes are to halt Palestinian rocket attacks.
Israeli attacks on the sixth day of fighting raised the
number of Palestinian dead to 101, the Hamas-run Health
Ministry said, listing 24 children among them. Hospital
officials in Gaza said more than half of those killed were
non-combatants. Three Israeli civilians died on Thursday in a
Militants in the Gaza Strip fired 110 rockets at southern
Israel on Monday, causing no casualties, police said.
For the second straight day, Israeli missiles blasted a tower
block in the city of Gaza housing international media. Two
people were killed there, one of them an Islamic Jihad
Khaled Meshaal, exiled leader of Hamas, said a truce was
possible but the Islamist group, in charge of the Gaza Strip
since 2007, would not accept Israeli demands and wanted
Israel to halt its strikes first and lift its blockade of the
"Whoever started the war must end it," he told a news
conference in Cairo, adding that Israeli Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu, who faces an election in January, had
asked for a truce, an assertion a senior Israeli official
Meshaal said Netanyahu feared the domestic consequences of a
"land war" of the kind Israel launched four years ago: "He
can do it, but he knows that it will not be a picnic and that
it could be his political death and cost him the elections."
For Israel, Vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon has said that
"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 peninsula.
Although 84 percent of Israelis supported the current Gaza
assault, according to a poll by Israel's Haaretz newspaper,
only 30 percent wanted an invasion, while 19 percent wanted
their government to work on securing a truce soon.
"Israel is prepared and has taken steps, and is ready for a
ground incursion which will deal severely with the Hamas
military machine," a senior official close to Netanyahu told
"We would prefer to see a diplomatic solution that would
guarantee the peace for Israel's population in the south. If
that is possible, then a ground operation would no longer be
required. If diplomacy fails, we may well have no alternative
but to send in ground forces," he added.
Egypt, where newly elected President Mohamed Mursi has his
roots in the Muslim Brotherhood seen as mentors to Hamas, is
acting as a mediator in the biggest test yet of Cairo's 1979
peace treaty with Israel since the fall of Hosni Mubarak.
"I think we are close, but the nature of this kind of
negotiation, (means) it is very difficult to predict,"
Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Kandil, who visited Gaza on
Friday in a show of support for its people, said in an
interview in Cairo for the Reuters Middle East Investment
Egypt has been hosting leaders of both Hamas and Islamic
Jihad, a smaller armed faction.
Israeli media said a delegation from Israel had also been to
Cairo for truce talks. A spokesman for Netanyahu's government
declined comment on the matter.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon arrived in Cairo
to weigh in on ceasefire efforts. Egypt's foreign minister is
expected to visit Gaza on Tuesday with a delegation of Arab
THOUSANDS MOURN FAMILY
Thousands turned out on Gaza's streets to mourn four children
and five women, among 11 people killed in an Israeli strike
that flattened a three-storey home the previous day.
The bodies were wrapped in Palestinian and Hamas flags.
Echoes of explosions mixed with cries of grief and defiant
chants of "God is greatest".
The deaths of the 11 in an air strike drew more international
calls for an end to six days of hostilities and could test
Western support for an offensive Israel billed as
self-defence after years of cross-border rocket attacks.
Israel said it was investigating its air strike that brought
the home crashing down on the al-Dalu family, where the dead
spanned four generations. Some Israeli newspapers said the
wrong house may have been mistakenly targeted.
In scenes recalling Israel's 2008-2009 winter invasion of the
coastal enclave, tanks, artillery and infantry have massed in
field encampments along the sandy, fenced-off border and
military convoys moved on roads in the area.
Israel has also authorised the call-up of 75,000 military
reservists, so far mobilising around half that number.
The Gaza fighting adds to worries of world powers watching an
already combustible region, where several Arab autocrats have
been toppled in popular revolts for the past two years and a
civil war in Syria threatens to spread beyond its borders.
In the absence of any prospect of permanent peace between
Israel and Islamist factions such as Hamas, mediated deals
for each to hold fire unilaterally have been the only formula
for stemming bloodshed in the past.
Israel's declared goal is to deplete Gaza arsenals and force
Hamas to stop rocket fire that has hit Israeli border towns
Hamas and other groups in Gaza are sworn enemies of the
Jewish state which they refuse to recognise and seek to
eradicate, claiming all Israeli territory as rightfully
Hamas won legislative elections in the Palestinian
Territories in 2006. A year later, after the collapse of a
unity government under President Mahmoud Abbas, the Islamist
group seized Gaza in a brief civil war with Abbas's forces.