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Middle east

Gaza death toll mounts as peace efforts intensify

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2012-11-19

Israel continued air strikes against Hamas targets in Gaza on Monday as militants fired dozens of rockets at the Jewish state. With the death toll mounting, Egypt suggested it was "close" to brokering a peace deal between the two sides.

Summary of Monday's events:

  • Egypt’s premier said a peace deal could be “close”.
  • Israeli air strike kills Ramaz Harab, a senior commander in Islamic Jihad’s armed wing, the Al Quds Brigades.
  • The death toll from six days of violence has risen to at least 90 Palestinians, half of them civilians, and three Israelis.
  • Overnight Israeli air stikes hit around 80 targets.
  • Rockets continue to be fired into Israel.
  • Turkey accuses Israel of carrying out "terrorist acts" in Gaza.
  • UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon heads to Cairo for peace talks.
  • Israel says it will not attack Gaza if militant rocket attacks cease.
Israel bombed dozens of suspected guerrilla sites in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip on Monday as militants continued to launch rockets from the enclave.  Meanwhile, international peace efforts intensified and Egypt said it could be “close” to brokering a peace deal between the two sides.
 
Twelve Palestinian civilians and four fighters were killed in the air strikes, bringing the Gaza death toll since fighting began on Wednesday to 90, more than half of them non-combatants, local officials said. Three Israeli civilians have also been killed.

After an overnight lull, militants in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip fired 12 rockets at southern Israel in the span of 10 minutes, causing no casualties, police said. One landed near a school, but it was closed at the time.
 
An Israeli air strike Monday on Gaza City's Shuruq tower media centre kills Ramaz Harab, a senior commander in Islamic Jihad’s armed wing, the Al Quds Brigades. The building also houses the offices of Britain's Sky News and the Saudi channel Al Arabiya.
 
The deaths of 11 Palestinian civilians -- nine from one family -- in an air strike on Sunday drew more international calls for an end to six days of hostilities and could test Western support for an offensive Israel has billed as self-defence after years of cross-border rocket attacks.
 
“I am deeply saddened by the reported deaths of more than 10 members of the Dalu family ... (and) by the continuing firing of rockets against Israeli towns, which have killed several Israeli civilians," United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said before leaving for Cairo for peace talks Monday. "I strongly urge the parties to cooperate with all efforts led by Egypt to reach an immediate ceasefire."

Ban is expected to lend his weight to truce efforts spearheaded by Egypt, which borders both Israel and Gaza and whose Islamist government has been hosting Hamas leaders. Ban visits Israel on Tuesday.

FRANCE 24’s Gallagher Fenwick, reporting from Gaza, said residents live in fear that Israel is more likely to step up its offensive than end it.

“When you consider the reality on the ground, which is the incessant Israeli raids matched by just about as many rockets fired by Hamas and other militant groups, it’s very difficult to believe we are on a path towards peace,” Fenwick said.

International truce efforts intensify
“At this moment, a lot of people in Gaza are comparing this operation to the major Israeli offensive four years ago. They believe the level of violence this time has not yet reached its peak and it’s going to get worse."

'Peace deal could be close'

Egypt’s Prime Minister Hisham Kandil said Monday that efforts to negotiate a truce in Gaza are ongoing and a deal to stop the fighting could be close.

“Negotiations are going on as we speak and I hope we will reach something soon that will stop this violence and counter violence,” Kandil said.
 
“I think we are close, but the nature of this kind of negotiation, [means] it is very difficult to predict,” he added.
 
Egypt also said Foreign Minister Mohamed Amr will head to Gaza on Tuesday alongside a delegation of Arab ministers to express "solidarity" with the "brave" Palestinian people following Israeli air strikes on the Palestinian territory, a spokesman for the ministry said.
 
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle was also on his way to the Middle East on Monday for separate talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
 
The Gaza flare-up, and Israel’s signalling that it could soon escalate from aerial bombings to a ground sweep of the cramped and impoverished enclave, have stoked the worries of world powers watching an already combustible region.
 
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan accused Israel on Monday of carrying out “terrorist acts” in its bombardment of Gaza.
 
“Those who associate Islam with terrorism close their eyes in the face of mass killing of Muslims, turn their heads from the massacre of children in Gaza,” Erdogan told a conference of the Eurasian Islamic Council in Istanbul.
 
“For this reason, I say that Israel is a terrorist state, and its acts are terrorist acts.”

Both sides point blame

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, the 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.”

Western support for Israel

Israel’s operation has so far drawn Western support for what US 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.

Netanyahu said he had assured world leaders that Israel was doing its utmost to avoid causing civilian casualties in Gaza. At least 22 of the Gaza fatalities have been children.

In scenes recalling Israel’s 2008-2009 winter invasion of Gaza, 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.

A big, bloody rocket strike on Israelis might be enough for Netanyahu to give a green light for a ground offensive.

As well as the three Israelis killed so far, dozens have been left wounded in hundreds of salvoes since Wednesday. Some rockets reached as far as Tel Aviv, Israel’s commercial capital, but were shot down by the country’s air defence system.
 
(FRANCE 24 with wires)

 

Date created : 2012-11-19

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