Diplomatic efforts for Gaza truce intensify

With Gaza’s death toll at 121, the UN chief calls for end to violence in a meeting with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has arrived in Israel and is set to hold talks with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on the crisis in Gaza.

Earlier on Tuesday, Ban met the Arab League chief, Nabil el-Araby, in Cairo and called for support for Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s efforts to mediate a truce in the conflict as the Palestinian death toll from Israeli raids reached 121.

Egypt has been trying to negotiate a ceasefire with the help of Qatar and Turkey.

Al Jazeera’s Peter Greste, reporting from Cairo, said: “There is a momentum towards a ceasefire agreement, according to the Egyptians.”

“Ban Ki-moon would not be going to Israel and the West Bank if he felt something could not be achieved,” said Greste.

The content of the Egyptian plan is not known, but both Israel and Hamas have presented conditions.

With Ban pushing for a ceasefire, Khaled Meshaal, the Hamas leader, said his movement was committed to efforts to secure a truce, but insisted that Israel must lift its six-year blockade of the Gaza Strip, which has left the territory deprived of a much needed economic boost.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will also visit Israel, Egypt and the occupied West Bank, as the United States is  pushing to avoid an escalation of the Gaza crisis.

Clinton will meet Netanyahu and then discuss the crisis with Egyptian and Palestinian leaders, but she will not be meeting Hamas officials in Gaza and Cairo.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and various Arab foreign ministers are also expected to visit Gaza on Tuesday to show solidarity with the people of Gaza.

“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,” Netanyahu’s spokesperson told the AFP news agency. Ministers in Netanyahu’s inner circle, known as the the Forum of Nine also held lengthy talks on whether to agree to a ceasefire or expand the air and naval campaign into a ground operation.

Overnight attacks


  Palestinian family killed buried in Gaza

Israeli raids on the Gaza Strip have continued for the seventh day, despite calls for a truce, with missile strikes killing five in Gaza on Tuesday.

Al Jazeera’s Nour Samaha, reporting from Gaza, said that Israel is dropping flyers on northern Gaza warning residents of a ground invasion.

Ban had said that an Israeli ground operation into Gaza would be a “dangerous escalation”.

In the latest Israeli air strike early on Tuesday morning, at least four people were injured when F-16 fighter jets hit the Islamic National Bank in Gaza City, which is located in a residential area.

The AFP news agency reported that a rocket fired from Gaza struck an open area near Jerusalem.

More than 30 people were killed in Gaza on Monday. In one attack, two boys, aged two and four, and their parents were killed in Jabaliya refugee camp late in the evening. More than a dozen people were injured, mostly women and children.

The Israeli military has struck more than 1,350 targets in Gaza since attacks began on Wednesday, Israel says it launched the operation to deter Palestinian fighters from launching rockets into its territory.

Since then, 640 rockets have hit Israel while more than 300 others have been intercepted by Israel’s anti-missile system, the Iron Dome, according to the Israeli army. Three Israeli civilians died on Thursday in a rocket strike.

The Israeli military said that 67 rockets had been fired at the country on Monday, and that three Israelis had been wounded.

Many residents of southern Israel have left the area and schools have been closed since the start of the crisis.

Gaza visit

El-Araby is also due in Gaza on Tuesday, accompanied by Davutoglu and several Arab top diplomats, in the latest in a series of visits that have eased the long diplomatic isolation of the territory’s Hamas rulers.

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.”

Hamas is also understood to be seeking guarantees Israel will stop its targeted killings, such as the one that killed a top military commander on Wednesday.

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

“We are not against a calming, but we want our demands … to end the thuggery, to end the aggression and to lift the blockade,” he said, adding that Hamas would reject any Israeli preconditions for a ceasefire because “they started the aggression”.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies