Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi yesterday branded an Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip, in which 23 Palestinians have been killed, as “blatant aggression against humanity,” Egypt’s official MENA news agency said.
“Egypt will not leave Gaza on its own ... What is happening is a blatant aggression against humanity,” he said, as Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Kandil visited Gaza vowing to boost efforts to secure a truce to end the bloodletting.
“I tell them in the name of all the Egyptian people that the Egypt of today is not the Egypt of yesterday and that the Arabs of today are different than the Arabs of yesterday,” Morsi said after weekly prayers at a Cairo mosque.
“Cairo will not leave Gaza on its own,” he added.
Kandil rushed to the aid of the Gaza Strip’s Hamas rulers earlier yesterday in the midst of an Israeli offensive there, calling for an end to the operation, as Palestinian rocket squads aimed at Tel Aviv for a second straight day.
Sirens wailed across Israel’s main metropolis moments before an explosion was heard, but police said the rocket appeared to have fallen into the sea.
Israel said it halted its incessant air attacks on militant targets in Gaza during Kandil’s brief visit, though Hamas security claimed that three airstrikes hit the territory during the period. Meanwhile, militants fired off more than 60 rockets after Kandil arrived in Gaza.
Kandil toured Gaza City’s Shifa Hospital, accompanied by the territory’s prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, who was making his first public appearance since Israel’s offensive began on Wednesday.
In one chaotic moment, a man rushed toward the two leaders, shouting as he held up the body of a four-year-old boy. The two men cradled the lifeless boy who Hamas said was killed in an Israeli airstrike — a claim Israel denied.
Fighting to hold back tears, Kandil told reporters that the Israeli operation must end.
“What I saw today in the hospital, the wounded and the martyrs, the boy ... whose blood is still on my hands and clothes, is something that we cannot keep silent about,” he said.
Israel vociferously denied carrying out any form of attack in the area since the previous night. The pace of cross-border fighting quickly resumed after the Egyptian leader’s departure.
The violence has widened the instability gripping the region, straining already frayed Israel-Egypt relations.
The Islamist government in Cairo, like Hamas linked to the regionwide Muslim Brotherhood, recalled its ambassador in protest and dispatched Kandil to show solidarity with Gaza.
Israel, meanwhile, signaled a ground invasion might be imminent, with troops, tanks and armored personnel carriers massing near the Palestinian territory.
The Israeli military “continues to strike hard against Hamas and is prepared to expand its action into Gaza,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.
The operation began with the assassination of Hamas’ military chief and dozens of airstrikes on rocket launching sites. While Israel claims to have inflicted heavy damage, militants have fired hundreds of rockets into southern Israel, bringing the entire region to a standstill.
At least 22 Palestinians, including 12 militants and six children, as well as three Israelis have been killed in three days of fierce fighting.
Meanwhile, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay yesterday condemned the killing of innocent civilians in the escalating conflict and called on both Israel and Gaza militants to cease hostilities.
“The high commissioner has repeatedly and unequivocally condemned the indiscriminate firing of rockets from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel,” Pillay’s spokesman Rupert Colville told reporters in Geneva.
“She is also extremely concerned by the sharp increase in aerial attacks by Israeli forces on the heavily populated Gaza Strip in the past two days,” he added.
Pillay placed equal emphasis on the need for both sides involved in the conflict to “pull back from the increasingly dangerous confrontation,” the commissioner’s spokesman said.
In a reference to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s appeal on Wednesday for Israel to ease tensions with Gaza militants, while also condemning the rocket attacks, Colville said that Pillay “joins with the secretary-general and many others to take serious steps to avoid further escalation.”
“We are urging both sides to stop,” he said, adding that civilians were being killed on both sides, including several Palestinian children, a baby and reportedly a pregnant woman.
“Everyone is watching and praying that it does not escalate any further,” Colville said.