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Egypt calls for Gaza ceasefire as fighting rages

2014-08-23 17:49

Cairo - Egypt called on Israel and the Palestinians on Saturday to halt fire and resume peace talks, but violence continued unabated with Israeli air strikes in the Gaza Strip and Hamas militants firing rockets at the Jewish state.

A senior Egyptian diplomat said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had informed Sisi that Hamas was prepared to come to Cairo for further talks, but Hamas did not immediately confirm the report. Israel also had no immediate comment.

Gaza health officials said five people, including two children, were killed in an Israeli strike on a house in central Gaza. Four more Palestinians were killed in other strikes.

The Israeli military said it bombed about 20 targets across the Hamas-dominated strip, including rocket launchers and weapon caches. It said Gaza militants had fired more than 40 rockets at Israel and no Israeli casualties were reported.

Indirect ceasefire talks mediated by Egypt to end the deadly six-week conflict collapsed on Tuesday after rockets were fired from Gaza during a truce and Israel responded with air strikes.

The Egyptian foreign ministry issued a short statement on Saturday calling on both sides to resume talks. Palestinian President Abbas, in Cairo after meeting President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, also urged swift resumption of negotiations.

The Egyptian diplomat said Cairo expected to receive responses from both Israel and Hamas, the Islamist militant group which dominates Gaza, by Monday.

The talks, conducted in Cairo, do not involve direct meetings between Israeli officials and representatives of Hamas.

Israel considers Hamas a terrorist organisation and Hamas for its part refuses to recognise Israel.

Egyptian officials shuttle between the two sides.

Hamas has said it will not stop fighting until the Israeli-Egyptian blockade on Gaza is lifted.

Both Israel and Egypt view Hamas as a security threat and are reluctant to make sweeping concessions without guarantees weapons will not enter the economically-crippled enclave.

ICC bid

The Israeli military said Palestinian gunmen had fired almost 500 rockets at Israel since the talks broke down and Gaza health officials said 65 Palestinians had been killed in Israeli air strikes since then.

The Cairo talks had aimed to secure a lasting deal that would open the way for reconstruction aid to flow into the Gaza territory of 1.8 million people, where thousands of homes have been destroyed.

"My main goal is for the truce talks to resume in Egypt as soon as possible to avoid more casualties," Abbas told a news conference in Cairo.

Palestinian health officials say 2 080 people, most of them civilians, have been killed in the small, densely populated coastal enclave since July 8, when Israel launched an offensive with the declared aim of ending rocket fire into its territory.

Saturday's violence came a day after a four-year-old Israeli boy was killed by a mortar attack from Gaza, leading Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to threaten to escalate the fight against Hamas, vowing the group would "pay a heavy price".

The boy was the first Israeli child to have died in the conflict, bringing to four the number of civilians killed in Israel. Sixty-four Israeli soldiers have also been killed.

The Israeli military had said on Friday the mortar was fired from a school serving as a UN shelter, but later retracted that statement, saying the shelter was run by Hamas.

On Friday, Israel's military spokesperson Brigadier General Motti Almoz warned Palestinians near weapons stockpiles in Gaza to leave their homes.

"We are intensifying our attacks," he said, adding that Israel was "preparing for possible ground action".

Israel pulled ground forces out of Gaza more than two weeks ago after saying it had destroyed a network of Hamas tunnels used for cross-border ambushes.

But Netanyahu last week granted provisional approval for the call-up of 10 000 army reservists, signalling the possibility of heightened military action.

The United Nations says about 400 000 Gazans have been displaced and more than 400 children killed in the longest and deadliest violence between Israel and the Palestinians since the second Intifada, or Palestinian uprising, a decade ago.

Hamas leaders said on Saturday they have signed off on Abbas's bid to join the International Criminal Court (ICC), a move that could open up both Israel and the militant group to war crime probes over the Gaza conflict

If the Palestinians were to sign the ICC's founding treaty, the Rome Statute, the court would have jurisdiction over crimes committed in the Palestinian territories. An investigation could then examine events as far back as mid-2002.

Israel and Hamas have traded allegations of war crimes and both defend their military operations as consistent with international law.

Reuters

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