The UN secretary-general called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza yesterday as US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton headed to the region with a message that escalation of the conflict was in nobody’s interest.
Nevertheless, Israeli air strikes and Palestinian rocket fire continued for a seventh day.
For the second time since the fighting began, a rocket was launched at Jerusalem, triggering warning sirens. Police said it fell in an open area in the occupied West Bank and did not cause any casualties. Hamas’ armed wing said in Gaza it fired the projectile.
Egypt was trying to broker a truce between Israel and Gaza’s ruling Hamas movement.
An Egyptian intelligence source said: “There is still no breakthrough and Egypt is working to find middle ground.”
Israel’s military yesterday targeted about 100 sites in Gaza, including ammunition stores and the Gaza headquarters of the National Islamic Bank. Gaza’s health ministry said six Palestinians were killed.
Israeli police said more than 60 rockets were fired from Gaza by midday and 25 of the projectiles were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome system. The military said an officer was wounded.
About 115 Palestinians have died in a week of fighting, the majority of them civilians, including 27 children, hospital officials said. Three Israelis died last week when a rocket from Gaza struck their house.
In Cairo, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for an immediate ceasefire and said an Israeli ground operation in Gaza would be a “dangerous escalation” that must be avoided.
He held talks in Cairo with Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby and Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Kandil, before traveling to Israel for discussions with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Ban plans to return to Egypt today to see Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, who was unavailable due to the death of his sister.
Israel’s leaders weighed the benefits and risks of sending tanks and infantry into the densely populated coastal enclave two months before an Israeli election, and indicated they would prefer a diplomatic path backed by world powers.
Clinton was going to the Middle East for talks in Jerusalem, Ramallah and Cairo to try to calm the conflict. An Israeli source said she was expected to meet Netanyahu today.
“Her visits will build on American engagement with regional leaders over the past days — including intensive engagement by [US] President [Barack] Obama with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Morsi — to support de-escalation of violence and a durable outcome that ends the rocket attacks on Israeli cities and towns, and restores a broader calm,” a US Department of State official said.
Netanyahu and his top ministers debated their next moves in a meeting that lasted into the early hours of yesterday morning.
“Before deciding on a ground invasion, the prime minister intends to exhaust the diplomatic move in order to see if a long-term ceasefire can be achieved,” a senior Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said after the meeting.
A delegation of nine Arab ministers, led by the Egyptian foreign minister, visited Gaza in a further signal of heightened Arab solidarity.
Morsi, whose Muslim Brotherhood was mentor to the founders of Hamas, on Monday took a call from Obama, who told him Hamas must stop rocket fire into Israel — effectively endorsing Israel’s stated aim in launching the offensive last week. Obama also said he regretted civilian deaths — which have been predominantly among the Palestinians.
“The two leaders discussed ways to de-escalate the situation in Gaza and President Obama underscored the necessity of Hamas ending rocket fire into Israel,” the White House said, adding that the US leader had also called Netanyahu. “In both calls, President Obama expressed regret for the loss of Israeli and Palestinian civilian lives.”
Morsi has warned Netanyahu of serious consequences from a ground invasion of the kind that killed more than 1,400 people in Gaza four years ago, but he has been careful not to alienate Israel, with whom Egypt’s former military rulers signed a peace treaty in 1979.