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Middle east

Rocket fired at Jerusalem, Israeli police say

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2012-11-20

Jerusalem was targeted by a rocket attack on Tuesday but it landed outside the city and caused no casualties, Israeli police said. Israel had earlier decided to put on hold any ground invasion of Gaza to give peace negotiations a chance to succeed.

Summary of Tuesday's events:

  • Air raid sirens sounded in Jerusalem when a rocket was fired at the Holy City.
  • The death toll has risen to 109 Palestinians, with 32 killed on Monday. Four Israeli civilians and a soldier have died in the conflict.
  • Israeli ground offensive on temporary hold, an Israeli official told AFP.
  • US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton is headed to the region for talks.
  • UN chief Ban Ki-moon said an Israeli ground invasion would be a “dangerous escalation”, calls for immediate truce.
  • Israeli police said a suspect wielding a knife and an axe attacked US embassy guards in Tel Aviv.
  • Israel said it launched around 100 air strikes overnight on “terror” sites.

A rocket was fired at Jerusalem on Tuesday but did not hit the city or cause any casualties, Israeli police said. It was the second time a rocket has been launched toward Jerusalem since Israel’s Gaza offensive began last Wednesday. Air raid sirens had not been heard in the city for decades.

An Israeli civilian was killed by rocket fire from Gaza on Tuesday, a defence ministry spokesman said, shortly after army reports said a soldier had also been killed in a Palestinian rocket attack. The death toll from seven days of violence has risen to 109 Palestinians and five Israelis.

Since the start of the conflagration, hundreds of missiles have been launched deep into Israel, prompting the Jewish state to threaten a ground invasion of Gaza.

Earlier on Tuesday, Israeli ministers decided to hold off launching the invasion of the the coastal strip to give Egyptian-led truce efforts a chance to work, a senior Israeli official told AFP on Tuesday.

"A decision was taken that for the time being there is a temporary hold on the ground incursion to give diplomacy a chance to succeed," he said after a late-night meeting of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's key ministers, the Forum of Nine.

"They discussed both the state of the diplomacy and the military operation," he said on condition of anonymity.

As an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire plan took shape at indirect negotiations in Cairo between Israel and Hamas, a stream of top-level diplomats headed for the region to throw their weight behind efforts to end the violence which entered its seventh day on Tuesday.

“Dangerous escalation”

US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton travelled to the Middle East on Tuesday to throw her weight behind peace efforts.

Clinton left Asia to visit Israel, Egypt and Ramallah, a US official said, as the United States pushes to avoid an escalation of the Gaza crisis.

The secretary of state is due to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, then discuss the crisis with Egyptian and Palestinian leaders, after leaving President Barack Obama's trip to Southeast Asia, the official said.

Obama made the decision to send Clinton after speaking to Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and Netanyahu late on Monday night, Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said.

"Secretary Clinton will emphasise the US interest in a peaceful outcome that protects and enhances Israel's security and regional security," Rhodes said, though stopped short of calling Clinton's trip a mediating mission.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Tuesday for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and said an Israeli ground operation in the Palestinian enclave would be a “dangerous escalation” that must be avoided.

"All sides must halt fire immediately," Ban said. "Further escalating the situation will put the entire region at risk," he added, sitting alongside Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi after the two held what Ban described as a "very constructive meeting".

"I'm visiting the region because of the alarming situation in Gaza," the UN secretary general said. "I'm here to appeal personally for an end to the violence."

Both he and al-Arabi "share a deep concern about the appalling rising cost in human lives" in Gaza, he said.

An Israeli ground offensive in Gaza "would only result in further tragedy", Ban added.

"Once again families and children are dying as a result of senseless violence," said Ban, who arrived in Cairo on Monday.

Israel targets 100 'terror' sites

As the violence continued into a seventh day, the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) said approximately 100 Hamas “terror” sites were targeted overnight, including “underground rocket launchers, terror tunnels and ammunition storage facilities”.

In a statement, the IDF accused Iran of being behind the rockets launched at Israel, “forcing Israeli citizens to live under unbearable circumstances”.

“The IDF is determined to continue targeting sites that are used to carry out terror attacks against the state of Israel,” the statement said.

Palestinian militants, in turn, resumed rocket fire into Israel on Tuesday morning, sending Israelis in southern towns running for shelter.

Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal said his movement was committed to efforts to secure a truce, but insisted that Israel must lift its six-year blockade on the Gaza Strip.

Israel has its own demands, with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman insisting "the first and absolute condition for a truce is stopping all fire from Gaza."

Also on Tuesday Israeli police reported a man wielding a knife and an axe attacked a guard at the US embassy in Tel Aviv. The suspect, whose motive is unknown, was detained shortly after.

Death toll surpasses 100

Terrified and desperate, many Gaza families have fled their homes, some seeking haven in the south, which has seen fewer strikes.

Mourners flocked to the funeral of nine members of one family killed in a weekend strike on a Gaza City home, where the bodies of the five children were carried through the streets wrapped in Palestinian flags.

As the overall death toll in Gaza hit 109, with the 32 killed on Monday making it the bloodiest day so far, the Israeli army said that 42 rockets had struck Israel and another 19 had been intercepted by its Iron Dome defence system.

To date, the military has struck more than 1,350 targets in Gaza, and 640 rockets have hit southern Israel while another 324 have been intercepted.

The violence, coming ahead of an Israeli general election on January 22, raised the spectre of a broader Israeli military campaign like Israel’s 22-day Operation Cast Lead launched at the end of December 2008.

FRANCE 24’s Gallagher Fenwick, reporting from Gaza, said Palestinians fear a repeat of the Cast Lead offensive if truce talks break down.

“The scenario that Gazans fear most is that Israel will reject the proposals that have been put forward by the Egyptian mediator which will trigger the next step - the prospect of the thousands of Israeli soldiers posted along the border entering the territory in their armoured vehicles,” Fenwick said.

“If that happens, then the likeliness of the death toll rapidly increasing is very high.”

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

 

 

Date created : 2012-11-20

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