News Column

Israeli Inner Cabinet Meets as Truce Efforts Continue

Nov. 19, 2012

Israel's inner cabinet of nine senior ministers met Monday night to discus the future of the offensive against Gaza militants, as international attempts to get the sides to agree to a ceasefire continued.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon arrived in Cairo Monday, trying to get the sides to a ceasefire, and was expected to continue his efforts in Israel on Tuesday.

Egypt's Foreign Minister Mohamed Amr told the Secretary General that Egypt hoped to see results soon in its effort to achieve a ceasefire.

Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal has insisted it was up to Israel to halt its attacks on Gaza before any truce came into being, while Israel puts the onus on stopping the violence on Hamas.

Israel's Operation Pillar of Defence, which broke out Wednesday after days of Palestinian rocket attacks, has raged unabated for six days, and has so far cost over 100 Palestinian, and three Israeli, lives.

The offensive has been characterised by waves of Israeli air strikes on the Strip, and incessant Palestinian missile launches toward Israeli cities, including five toward Tel Aviv and one at Jerusalem, both hitherto immune from Gaza rockets.

Israel has threatened to send ground forces into the Gaza Strip if necessary to get Hamas to stop its rocket fire and Israeli officials, quoted by the Ha'aretz daily, said it was "now 50-50, between a ceasefire and expansion of the operations" - meaning an Israeli land offensive in the salient.

The official said Israel has decided to allow more time for the Egyptian mediation efforts to bear fruit.

Hamas wants the truce to include an end to the Israeli offensive, a halt to the assassination of militant leaders, and Israel's agreement to lift its naval blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Israel, for its part, wants a guarantee that Hamas and other Gaza armed groups will not launch any rockets at its towns and cities for a protracted period of years, rather than weeks or months.

Israel has amassed ground troops along the border and called up 40,000 reservists in advance of any possible ground incursion.

The Palestinian death toll in the violence, meanwhile rose to 107 Monday, Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qaedra said, with about 800 people wounded.

Around half the Palestinian fatalities were civilians.

Three Israeli civilians have also been killed, and Israel's Magen David Adom Emergency services said it has treated 252 Israelis, a figure which includes people suffering from shock.

Israel said that since the operation began on Wednesday, it has hit at least 1,350 targets in the Strip, and 664 rockets fired by Gaza militias have landed in Israel, 67 of them on Monday. A further 346 rockets have been intercepted and destroyed by the Iron Dome anti-missile defence system.

Prominent among the Palestinian casualties Monday were four senior leaders of the Islamic Jihad, who were killed while hiding in a building used by media outlets, Palestinian witnesses said.

The bombing of the building came as Israel continued targeting the homes and other buildings occupied by Palestinian militants in its bombardment of the Gaza Strip.

Witnesses in Gaza said the homes of Hamas militants were being hit, while Israel confirmed that the air force and navy had begun targetting buildings of militant leaders "used as command posts and weapon storage facilities."

Until Sunday, the vast majority of hundreds of locations bombed by Israel had been rocket launching sites.

In Brussels, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen expressed concern about the escalation in violence between the two sides and urged Israel to show restraint in its defence against attacks from Gaza.

"Of course Israel has the right to self-defence, and attacks against Israel must end. But the international community would also expect Israel to show restraint," Rasmussen said.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle added his voice to the international chorus calling for a ceasefire, saying that a truce was "the key to everything else."

Meeting Israeli foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman in Jerusalem Monday evening local time, he said that while "Israel has every right to defend itself and its people" from the Hamas rocket attacks, more civilian attacks had to be avoided.

Source: Copyright 2012 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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