Egypt says Gaza ceasefire in sight

JERUSALEM - Egypt, which has been leading efforts to secure a Gaza truce after nearly a week of cross-border violence, said Tuesday the Israeli “aggression” will end in hours, but the bloodshed showed no signs of abating.

By (AFP)

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Published: Tue 20 Nov 2012, 9:37 PM

Last updated: Fri 3 Apr 2015, 2:57 PM

Soon after Egypt’s President Mohammed Morsi predicted Egyptian-mediated efforts would imminently produce “positive results,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Gaza’s Hamas rulers to choose between peace and “the sword,” as air strikes rocked Gaza City and a rocket exploded near Jerusalem.

The rocket crashed into an olive grove near Jabba village, in an attack claimed by the armed wing of Gaza’s ruling Hamas movement, the second such attempt to hit Jerusalem in five days.

Nobody was hurt, but the sirens sparked panic in the Jerusalem, with cars screeching to a halt and people dashing for cover in the shadow of buildings, or crouching beside stationary vehicles.

In Gaza City, Israeli warplanes dropped leaflets urging people to evacuate their homes amid fears of an imminent ground invasion, and a new strike killed at least six people in Sabra neighbourhood, Hamas’s health ministry said.

It came as Israel and Hamas mulled an Egyptian-mediated ceasefire on the seventh day of the Jewish state’s bombing campaign against rocket-firing militants in the enclave.

In Cairo, President Morsi struck an upbeat note, saying Israel’s “aggression” against Gaza would end on Tuesday.

“The farce of the Israeli aggression will end today, Tuesday, and the efforts to reach a ceasefire between the Palestinians and Israelis will produce positive results within a few hours,” the official MENA news agency quoted him as saying.

A Hamas official said chief Khaled Meshaal and his negotiators were currently in a meeting with the intelligence chief. “But it’s no secret we’re on the verge of an agreement,” he said.

Earlier, in a rare statement aired on Hamas television, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades commander Mohammed Deif said that “the enemy will pay a heavy price if it thinks of entering Gaza.”

The warning came after Israel halted a threatened ground offensive to give talks a chance to end the conflict that flared on Wednesday when an Israeli strike killed Deif’s deputy, Ahmed Jaabari, before launching its bombing campaign.

After the first night of the conflict without Palestinian deaths, the toll rose to more than 120 on Tuesday when another 14 people were killed, including a 15-year-old boy who was hunting birds, medics said.

Three Israeli’s have been killed in rocket fire from Gaza.

Netanyahu and his key ministers decided to place “a temporary hold on a ground incursion to give diplomacy a chance to succeed,” a senior Israeli official told AFP.

The move came as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon travelled from Cairo to Jerusalem and urged both sides to stop their fire “immediately”.

The flurry of diplomatic activity has also seen US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton cut short an Asia tour to head to Jerusalem, Ramallah and Cairo, and Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi leading a solidarity visit to Gaza.

In New York meanwhile, diplomats said the United States blocked an Arab-sponsored statement on the Gaza conflict at the UN Security Council because it was “counter-productive” to the truce efforts.

Israel is looking for a 24- to 48-hour truce as a buffer to work out a more permanent arrangement, with Tuesday’s talks “expected to be decisive,” Haaretz newspaper said.

But it is pressing on with its troop buildup along the Gaza border regardless, said the senior Israeli official.

Hamas is understood to be seeking guarantees Israel will stop its targeted killings, and end its six-year blockade on the coastal territory home to 1.6 million people.

Analysts say a ground war could draw in other regional powers, including Israel’s arch foe, Iran.

Many families have fled their homes in northern Gaza, which has taken the brunt of the air strikes, to seek safe haven in the south.

Since the violence erupted on November 14, Gaza militants have fired more than 1,000 rockets at the Jewish state, killing three people and injuring dozens.

Of those, 715 have crashed into southern Israel and another 359 were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system.

The violence comes as Israel heads towards a general election in January, raising the spectre of a broader Israeli military campaign along the lines of its devastating 22-day Operation Cast Lead launched at the end of December 2008.

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