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Sat Nov 29 03:12:53 CAT 2014

The latest on the Israel, Palestine clash: 20 November 2012

Reuters, Sapa-AFP, Sapa-dpa, Sapa-AP | 20 November, 2012 09:33

The latest news on the conflict between Israel and Hamas all in one place.

Gaza truce deal not finalised -Israeli govt spokesman Reuters

A ceasefire deal with Gaza militants has not been finalised and the "ball is still in play", Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev told CNN on Tuesday.

"Until you're there, you're not there," he said.

Shortly before, an Hamas official said a deal had been reached during talks brokered by Egypt, adding that the ceasefire would come into effect at midnight

 

Israel, Gaza militants agree to ceasefire - Hamas official Reuters

Israel and militants from the Gaza Strip have agreed to an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire that will come into force at midnight local (2200 GMT), Hamas official Ayman Taha said, speaking to Reuters from Cairo.

"An agreement for calm has been reached. It will be declared at 9.00 p.m. and go into effect at midnight," Taha said.

Israeli army tells thousands of Gazans to evacuate homes Reuters

Israel dropped leaflets over numerous Gaza neighbourhoods on Tuesday warning civilians to get out of the way, as its army prepared for a possible invasion of the enclave after seven days of Israeli air strikes and Palestinian militant rocket fire.

Two messages were sent in Arabic by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) telling residents where to go.

The first said:

"To the residents of Sheikh Ajlin, Tel Al-Hwa, Rimal South, Zeitoun, Sjaiya, Turkeman and Sajiya Jadida:

"For your safety, you are required to evacuate your residences immediately and move towards the central Gaza city, via Al-Khara, Jma'at Al Dul Al Arabia, Al Aqsa Al Qudsiya, Um Alaimoun, Salah A-din, Al-Maqsurra, Hal's Mjdad.

"In the central Gaza city, you are required to stay between the areas of Salah A-din from the west, Amar Al-Muchtar from the north, Al-Nasser from the east and Al-Quds St. from the south.

The second leaflet said:

"To the residents of of the outskirts of Shati, Al-Atatra, Beit Lahiya and Beit Hanoun:

"For your safety, you are required to evacuate your residences immediately and move towards central Gaza city via Al-Falujah, Al-Udda and Salah A-din. In the central Gaza city, you are required to stay between the roads of Salah A-din from the west, Amar Al-Muchtar from the north, Al-Nasser from the east and Al-Quds St. from the south."

Gunmen kill six 'collaborators' in Gaza: witnesses Sapa-AFP

Gunmen executed six "collaborators" in a Gaza City neighbourhood on Tuesday, witnesses told AFP, adding that notices were pinned to their bodies saying they had been killed by Hamas's armed wing.

"Gunmen in a minibus pulled up in the neighbourhood, pushed six men out and shot them without leaving the vehicle," one of the witnesses said, adding that a message pinned to the bodies read: "Al-Qassam Brigades announces the execution of the traitors."

Truce mediator Egypt sees imminent end to Gaza conflict Reuters

Egypt's president predicted on Tuesday that Israel's Gaza offensive would end later in the day, Egyptian state media said, as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton headed to the region to try to calm the conflict.

"President Mohamed Mursi announced that the farce of Israeli aggression against the Gaza Strip will end on Tuesday," the MENA news agency and state TV reported, quoting public remarks he made after the funeral of his sister.

Egypt, led by an Islamist government allied with Gaza's ruling Hamas movement and at peace with Israel, has been trying to broker a ceasefire in hostilities now in their seventh day.

MENA quoted Mursi as saying "the efforts to conclude a truce between the Palestinian and Israeli sides will produce positive results in the next few hours".

While efforts mounted to stop the fighting and avert a possible Israeli ground invasion of the densely populated Gaza Strip, Israel pressed on with air strikes and Palestinian rockets flashed across the border.

Jerusalem was targeted for the second time since Israel launched the air offensive with the declared aim of deterring Palestinian militants from carrying out cross-border attacks that have plagued its south for years.

The rocket, which fell harmlessly in the occupied West Bank, triggered warning sirens in the holy city about the time U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon arrived in Jerusalem from talks in Cairo, where he had held discussions on a truce.

Israel's military on Tuesday targeted about 100 sites in Gaza, including ammunition stores and the Gaza headquarters of the National Islamic Bank. Gaza's Hamas-run Health Ministry said six Palestinians were killed.

Israeli police said more than 150 rockets were fired from Gaza by late afternoon, many of them intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome system. Ten people were wounded in Israel, the military and an ambulance service said.

Some 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.

Israel's leaders weighed the benefits and risks of sending tanks and infantry into the Gaza Strip two months before an Israeli election, and indicated they would prefer a diplomatic path backed by world powers, including U.S. President Barack Obama, the European Union and Russia.

Clinton was going to the Middle East for talks in Jerusalem, Ramallah and Cairo. An Israeli source said she was expected to meet Netanyahu on Wednesday.

"Her visits will build on American engagement with regional leaders over the past days - including intensive engagement by President Obama with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Mursi - 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 State Department official said.

In Cairo, Ban called for an immediate ceasefire and said an Israeli ground operation in Gaza would be a "dangerous escalation" that must be avoided.

He met in Cairo with Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby and Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Kandil before travelling to Israel for discussions with Netanyahu. Ban planned to return to Egypt on Wednesday to see Mursi.

NEXT MOVES

Netanyahu and his top ministers debated their next moves in a meeting that lasted into the early hours of Tuesday.

"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.

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal said on Monday that Israel must halt what he described as its attack on the Gaza Strip and lift the blockade of the Palestinian territory in exchange for a truce.

In the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, Hamas executed six alleged collaborators, whom a security source quoted by the Hamas Aqsa radio "were caught red-handed" with "filming equipment to take footage of positions". The radio said they were shot.

A delegation of nine Arab ministers, led by the Egyptian foreign minister, visited Gaza in a further signal of heightened Arab solidarity with the Palestinians.

Fortified by the ascendancy of fellow Islamists in Egypt and elsewhere, and courted by Sunni Arab leaders in the Gulf keen to draw the Palestinian group away from old ties to Shi'ite Iran, Hamas has tested its room for manoeuvre, as well as longer-range rockets that have also reached the Tel Aviv metropolis.

Egypt, Gaza's other neighbour and the biggest Arab nation, has been a key player in efforts to end the most serious fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants since a three-week Israeli invasion of the enclave in the winter of 2008-9.

The ousting of U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak and the election of Mursi is part of a dramatic reshaping of the Middle East wrought by Arab uprisings and now affecting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Mursi, 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.

Mursi has warned Netanyahu of serious consequences from an 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, or Washington, a major aid donor to Egypt.

Addressing troops training in southern Israel, Defence Minister Ehud Barak said: "Hamas will not disappear but the memory of this experience will remain with it for a very long time and this is what will restore deterrence."

But he said: "Quiet has not yet been achieved and so we are continuing (the offensive) ... there are also diplomatic contacts -- ignore that, you are here so that if the order for action must be given - you will act."

Hamas said four-year-old twin boys had died with their father when their house in the town of Beit Lahiya was struck from the air during the night. The children's mother was critically wounded, and neighbours said the occupants were not involved with militant groups.

Israel had no immediate comment on that attack. It says it takes extreme care to avoid civilians and accuses Hamas and other militant groups of deliberately placing Gaza's 1.7 million people in harm's way by placing rocket launchers among them.

Nonetheless, fighting Israel, whose right to exist Hamas refuses to recognise, is popular with many Palestinians and has kept the movement competitive with the secular Fatah movement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who remains in the West Bank after losing Gaza to Hamas in a civil war five years ago.

"Hamas and the others, they're our sons and our brothers, we're fingers on the same hand," said 55-year-old Faraj al-Sawafir, whose home was blasted by Israeli forces. "They fight for us and are martyred, they take losses and we sacrifice too."

Along Israel's sandy, fenced-off border with the Gaza Strip, tanks, artillery and infantry massed in field encampments awaiting any orders to go in. Some 45,000 reserve troops have been called up since the offensive was launched.

Israel's shekel rose on Tuesday for a second straight session while Tel Aviv shares gained for a third day in a row on what dealers attributed to investor expectations that a ceasefire deal was imminent.

Rocket fired at Jerusalem, hits West Bank Reuters

A rocket was fired at Jerusalem on Tuesday, missing the holy city and landing in the near-by West Bank, police said, adding that there were no casualties or damage.

Islamist militant group Hamas said it had fired the missile out of the Gaza Strip in response to continued Israeli airstrikes on the Palestinian territory.

It was the second time a rocket has been launched toward Jerusalem since Israel's Gaza offensive began last Wednesday, with sirens sounding around the city, sending pedestrians running for cover.

"The rocket landed in the West Bank. No damage or casualties," a police spokesman said, adding that it was one of 95 rockets launched into Israel on Wednesday. Thirty of them were intercepted by the Iron Dome system.

Hamas's armed wing said it had fired a Qassam M75 rocket. "If you go back to carrying out attacks, we will go back to responding," a statement said

Since the start of the conflagration, hundreds of missiles have been launched deep into Israel. Israel has warned it will broaden its offensive in the Gaza Strip if Palestinian militants do not stop their rocket fire.

Palestinian militants fire rocket toward Jerusalem - Sapa-AP

Palestinian militants have fired a rocket toward Jerusalem, causing an explosion moments after air raid sirens sounded across the city.

The sound of Tuesday's blast could be heard in the distance from downtown Jerusalem.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the rocket apparently did not reach the city and authorities are searching for the blast site.

It's the second rocket attack aimed at Jerusalem since a round of fighting broke out between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza last Wednesday. Jerusalem, nearly 80 kilometers (50 miles) from Gaza, is the most distant city the militants have targeted.

The rocket attack occurred as diplomats are trying to work out a cease-fire.

Rocket fired at Jerusalem, police say didn't hit city Reuters

A rocket was fired at Jerusalem on Tuesday but did not hit the city, police said.

It was the second time a rocket has been launched toward Jerusalem since Israel's Gaza offensive began last Wednesday.

Iran official: Gaza fighters need to be 'equipped' Sapa-AP

Iran says Palestinians in the Gaza Strip should be "equipped" to defend themselves against Israel.

But Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast refused to comment on Israeli allegations that Iran is already sending arms to Gaza, which has been under Israel's attack since last week in retaliation for rockets fired by Hamas into Israel.

At least 113 Palestinians have been killed - nearly half of them civilians.

Iran is a major supporter of the militant groups such as Islamic Jihad and Hamas, which controls Gaza.

Mehmanparast also said on Tuesday that that Israel should be put on trial for war crimes over the latest offensive.

Iran has previously denied it had directly supplied Hamas with Iranian-made Fajr-5 missiles that have hit near Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Attacker stabs guard at US embassy in Tel Aviv Reuters

A man stabbed a security guard on Tuesday at the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv and was apprehended by police, a police spokesman said.

The spokesman said the guard opened fire during the attack. Israel Radio said the attacker was wounded. He was armed with a knife and an axe, police said.

Obama sends Clinton to mideast amid Gaza crisis Sapa-AP

President Barack Obama is dispatching Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to the Middle East as the U.S. urgently seeks to contain the bloody conflict between Israel and Hamas.

Clinton hastily departed for the region Tuesday from Cambodia, where she had joined Obama for summit meetings with Asian leaders. The White House said she would make three stops, meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Palestinian officials in Ramallah and Egyptian leaders in Cairo.

Clinton's trip marks the Obama administration's most forceful engagement in the seven-day conflict that has killed more than 100 Palestinians and three Israelis, with hundreds more wounded. While the U.S. has backed Israel's right to defend itself against rocket fire from Gaza, the Obama administration has warned its ally against pursuing a ground assault that would further escalate the violence and could dramatically increase casualties on both sides.

Still, Obama's deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said the U.S. believes "Israel will make its own decisions about the military operations and decisions that it undertakes."

"At the same time, we believe that Israel, like the United States, like other countries, would prefer to see their interests met diplomatically and peacefully," Rhodes added.

Obama and Clinton each have held multiple telephone calls with their counterparts in Israel and Egypt, which is at the center of negotiations to quell the violence. Because the U.S. does not directly engage with Hamas, it is relying on Egypt, as well as Turkey and Qatar, to deliver its message to the Hamas leadership in Gaza.

The U.S. considers Hamas a terrorist organization and prohibits contact between its members and American officials.

Israel and Hamas say they are open to diplomatic mediation efforts being led by Egypt, but they are far apart in their demands.

Hamas wants Israel to halt all attacks on Gaza and lift tight restrictions on trade and movement in and out of the territory that have been in place since Hamas seized Gaza by force in 2007. Israel demands an end to rocket fire from Gaza and a halt to weapons smuggling into Gaza through tunnels under the border with Egypt.

The widening conflict has threatened to overshadow Obama's three-country tour of Southeast Asia, his first overseas trip after winning re-election. The president, after a marathon day that took him from Thailand to Myanmar to Cambodia, worked the phones with Mideast leaders into the early hours of Tuesday morning, aides said.

At least 40 rockets fired at Israel Sapa-AFP

Palestinian militants fired at least 40 rockets at Israel early Tuesday, leaving one person injured and damaging property, Israeli police said in a statement.

A volley of around 16 Grad rockets was fired at Beersheba, the largest city in the south. The armed wing of the Hamas movement, Qassam Brigades, claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Four of the rockets landed in the city, while the rest either fell outside or were intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome defence system.

World pressure for Gaza truce intensifies Reuters

The U.N. chief called for an immediate ceasefire in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton headed to the region with a message that escalation of the week-long conflict was in nobody's interest.

Nevertheless, Palestinian rocket fire and Israeli air strikes continued for a seventh day.

Hamas militants said they fired 16 missiles at the southern Israeli city of Beersheba after Israel's military targeted roughly 100 sites in Gaza overnight, including ammunition stores and the Gaza headquarters of the National Islamic Bank.

Some 110 Palestinians have died in a week of fighting, the majority of them civilians, including 27 children. Three Israelis died last week when a Gaza missile struck their house.

In Cairo, U.N. 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 had held talks in the Egyptian capital with Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby and was due to meet Egypt's Islamist President Mohamed Mursi before travelling to Israel for talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

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, including U.S. President Barack Obama, the European Union and Russia.

The White House said Clinton was going to the Middle East for talks in Jerusalem, Ramallah and Cairo to try to calm the conflict. An Israeli sources said she was expected to meet Netanyahu on Wednesday.

Netanyahu and his top ministers debated their next moves in a meeting that lasted into the early hours of Tuesday.

"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, were due in Gaza later on Tuesday in a further signal of heightened Arab solidarity with the Palestinians.

Any diplomatic solution may pass through Egypt, Gaza's other neighbour and the biggest Arab nation, where the ousting of U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak and the election of Mursi is part of a dramatic reshaping of the Middle East wrought by Arab uprisings and now affecting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Mursi, whose Muslim Brotherhood was mentor to the founders of Hamas, took a call from Obama on Monday telling him the group must stop rocket fire into Israel - effectively endorsing Israel's stated aim in launching the offensive last week. Obama, as quoted by the White House, 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 U.S. leader had also called Netanyahu.

"In both calls, President Obama expressed regret for the loss of Israeli and Palestinian civilian lives."

EGYPT SEES DEAL

Mursi 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, or Washington, a major aid donor to Egypt.

Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Kandil told Reuters a ceasefire was possible: "I think we are close, but the nature of this kind of negotiation, (means) it is very difficult to predict."

After Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal laid out demands in Cairo that Israel take the first step in restoring calm, and warned Netanyahu that a ground war in Gaza could wreck his re-election prospects in January, a senior Israeli official denied a Hamas assertion that the prime minister had asked for a truce.

"Whoever started the war must end it," Meshaal said, referring to Israel's assassination from the air on Wednesday of Hamas's Gaza military chief, a move that followed a scaling up of rocket fire onto Israeli towns over several weeks.

An official close to Netanyahu told Reuters: "We would prefer to see a diplomatic solution that would guarantee the peace for Israel's population in the south. If that is possible, then a ground operation would no longer be required."

Fortified by the ascendancy of fellow Islamists in Egypt and elsewhere, and courted by fellow Sunni Arab leaders in the Gulf keen to draw the Palestinian group away from old ties to Shi'ite Iran, Hamas has tested its room for manoeuvre, as well as longer-range rockets that have reached the Tel Aviv metropolis.

LOWER INTENSITY

Israeli statistics showed some easing in the ferocity of the exchanges on Monday. Israeli police counted 110 rockets, causing no casualties, of which 42 were shot down by anti-missile batteries. Tuesday's salvo also caused no injuries.

There has been no attack on Tel Aviv since Sunday.

Hamas said four-year-old twin boys had died with their parents when their house in the town of Beit Lahiya was struck from the air during the night. Neighbours said the occupants were not involved with militant groups.

Israel had no immediate comment on that attack. It says it takes extreme care to avoid civilians and accuses Hamas and other militant groups of deliberately placing Gaza's 1.7 million people in harm's way by placing rocket launchers among them.

Nonetheless, fighting Israel, whose right to exist Hamas refuses to recognise, is popular with many Palestinians and has kept the movement competitive with the secular Fatah movement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who remains in the West Bank after losing Gaza to Hamas in a civil war five years ago.

"Hamas and the others, they're our sons and our brothers, we're fingers on the same hand," said 55-year-old Faraj al-Sawafir, whose home was blasted by Israeli forces. "They fight for us and are martyred, they take losses and we sacrifice too."

In scenes recalling Israel's 2008-2009 winter invasion of the coastal enclave, tanks, artillery and infantry have massed in field encampments along the sandy, fenced-off border.

Israel has also authorised the call-up of 75,000 military reservists, so far mobilising around half that number.

Although 84 percent of Israelis support the current Gaza assault, according to a poll by Israel's Haaretz newspaper, only 30 percent want an invasion.

In an echo of frictions over the civil war in Syria, Russia accused the United States on Monday of blocking a bid by the U.N. Security Council to condemn the escalating conflict in the Gaza Strip. Washington has generally stopped the U.N. body from putting what it sees as undue pressure on its Israeli ally.

Israel strikes Gaza’s Islamic National Bank as toll at 109 - Sapa-AFP

Seven Palestinians were wounded in strikes on Gaza overnight, but no one was killed in the first night without fatalities since the Israeli air campaign began nearly a week ago.

The Israeli military said it attacked about 100 targets in the coastal strip during the night, using aircraft, warships and artillery.

Palestinian emergency services said that the raids severely damaged the National Islamic Bank in Gaza City, set up by the strip’s Hamas government, in an attack confirmed by the military.

“A financial institution used by Hamas to fuel its terror activity was targeted in the northern Gaza Strip,” a military statement said.

An army spokeswoman told AFP that at least three rockets hit southern Israel overnight, and two more were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defence system.

Monday was the bloodiest day of the Israeli operation since it was launched on Wednesday, with 32 people killed.

The latest violence on Monday night killed a family of four who died in an attack on the northern town of Beit Lahiya, and two teenage brothers who were killed in the southern city of Rafah, bringing the six-day death toll to 109.

During the day, warplanes had attacked Gaza City’s Shuruq tower media centre — the second time the building has been targeted — killing a senior Islamic Jihad militant.

Islamic Jihad sources named him as Ramez Harb and said he was a senior commander in its armed wing, the Al-Quds Brigades.

The late-night strike on Beit Lahiya killed Fuad Hijazi and his wife Amna and their two children, one aged 4 and the other 18 months, medics said.

Gaza truce pressure builds, Cairo in focus - Reuters

nternational pressure for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip puts Egypt’s new Islamist president in the spotlight on Tuesday after a sixth day of Palestinian rocket fire and Israeli air strikes that have killed more than 100 people.

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, including US President Barack Obama, the European Union and Russia.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his top ministers debated their next moves in a meeting that lasted into the early hours of Tuesday.

“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.

Any diplomatic solution may pass through Egypt, Gaza’s other neighbour and the biggest Arab nation, where the ousting of US ally Hosni Mubarak and election of President Mohamed Mursi is part of a dramatic reshaping of the Middle East, wrought by the Arab Spring and now affecting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Mursi, whose Muslim Brotherhood was mentor to the founders of Hamas, took a call from Obama on Monday telling him the group must stop rocket fire into Israel — effectively endorsing Israel’s stated aim in launching the offensive last week. Obama, as quoted by the White House, 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.

“President Obama then called Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel and received an update on the situation in Gaza and Israel. In both calls, President Obama expressed regret for the loss of Israeli and Palestinian civilian lives.”

Three Israeli civilians and 108 Palestinians have been killed. Gaza officials say more than half of those killed in the enclave were civilians, 27 of them children.

Egypt sees deal

Mursi has warned Netanyahu of serious consequences from a ground invasion of the kind that killed more than 1400 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, or Washington, a major aid donor to Egypt.

A meeting on Tuesday in Cairo between Mursi and Ban Ki-moon, the secretary-general of the United Nations who flew in late on Monday, could shed light on the shape of any truce proposals.

Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Kandil told Reuters: “I think we are close, but the nature of this kind of negotiation, (means) it is very difficult to predict.”

Israeli media have said Israeli officials are also in Cairo to talk. Ban is due to meet Netanyahu in Jerusalem soon.

After Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal laid out demands in Cairo that Israel take the first step in restoring calm, and warned Netanyahu that a ground war in Gaza could wreck his re-election prospects in January, a senior Israeli official denied a Hamas assertion that the prime minister had asked for a truce.

“Whoever started the war must end it,” Meshaal said, referring to Israel’s assassination from the air on Wednesday of Hamas’s Gaza military chief, a move that followed a scaling up of rocket fire onto Israeli towns over several weeks.

An official close to Netanyahu told Reuters: “Israel is prepared and has taken steps and is ready for a ground incursion which will deal severely with the Hamas military machine.

“We would prefer to see a diplomatic solution that would guarantee the peace for Israel’s population in the south. If that is possible, then a ground operation would no longer be required,” he added. “If diplomacy fails, we may well have no alternative but to send in ground forces.”

Civilians killed

Fortified by the ascendancy of fellow Islamists in Egypt and elsewhere, and courted by fellow Sunni Arab leaders in the Gulf keen to draw the Palestinian group away from old ties to Shi’ite Iran, Hamas has tested its room for manoeuvre, as well as longer-range rockets that have reached the Tel Aviv metropolis.

Israeli statistics showed some easing in the ferocity of the exchanges on Monday. Israeli police counted 110 rockets, causing no casualties, of which 42 were shot down by anti-missile batteries. Compared with more than 1000 rockets fired in total, the indications were that the level of violence had fallen.

Palestinian militants resumed rocket fire into Israel on Tuesday morning, sending Israelis in southern towns running for shelter.

Israel’s military said it had conducted 100 air strikes throughout the night. “A financial institution used by Hamas to fuel its terror activity was targeted in the northern Gaza Strip,” it said.

Hamas said 4-year-old twin boys had died with their parents when their house in the town of Beit Lahiya was struck from the air. Neighbours said the occupants were not involved with militant groups.

Israel had no immediate comment on that attack. It says it takes extreme care to avoid civilians and accuses Hamas and other militant groups of deliberately placing Gaza’s 1,7 million people in harm’s way by placing rocket launchers among them.

Nonetheless, fighting Israel, whose right to exist Hamas refuses to recognise, is popular with many Palestinians and has kept the movement competitive with the secular Fatah movement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who remains in the West Bank after losing Gaza to Hamas in a civil war five years ago.

“Hamas and the others, they’re our sons and our brothers, we’re fingers on the same hand,” said 55-year-old Faraj al-Sawafir, whose home was blasted by Israeli forces. “They fight for us and are martyred, they take losses and we sacrifice too.”

Thousands turned out on Monday to mourn four children and five women who were among 11 people killed in an Israeli air strike that flattened a three-storey home the previous day.

The bodies were wrapped in Palestinian and Hamas flags.

Echoes of explosions mixed with cries of grief and defiant chants of “God is greatest!”

Israeli investigation

Israel said it was investigating the strike that brought the block crashing down on the al-Dalu family, where the dead spanned four generations. Some Israeli newspapers said the house might have been targeted by mistake.

For the second straight day, Israeli missiles blasted a tower block in the city of Gaza housing international media. Two people were killed there, one of them an Islamic Jihad militant.

In scenes recalling Israel’s 2008-2009 winter invasion of the coastal enclave, tanks, artillery and infantry have massed in field encampments along the sandy, fenced-off border.

Israel has also authorised the call-up of 75000 military reservists, so far mobilising around half that number.

Although 84% of Israelis support the current Gaza assault, according to a poll by Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, only 30% want an invasion.

With the power balances of the Middle East drastically shifted by the Arab Spring during a first Obama term that began two days after Israel ended its last major Gaza offensive, the newly re-elected US president faces testing choices to achieve Washington’s hopes for peace and stability across the region.

In an echo of frictions over the civil war in Syria, Russia accused the United States on Monday of blocking a bid by the U.N. Security Council to condemn the escalating conflict in the Gaza Strip. Washington has generally stopped the U.N. body from putting what it sees as undue pressure on its Israeli ally.

US sends ships to Mediterranean for possible evacuation - Sapa-dpa

The United States is sending three US Navy ships to the eastern Mediterranean Sea for the possible evacuation of Americans out of Israel, CNN reported Monday.

CNN quoted two unnamed US officials as its source. The officials said evacuation by sea was unlikely, as most Americans were leaving via commercial airlines if they wanted to depart.

Earlier Monday, US President Barack Obama called both Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi to discuss the rising violence in Gaza.

Obama, who made the calls from Cambodia where he is attending a summit, emphasized to Morsi the “necessity of Hamas ending rocket fire into Israel,” according to a White House statement.

In his conversation with Netanyahu, he received an update on the situation in Gaza and Israel.

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