News Column

Israel, Hamas Step Up Attacks Ahead of Anticipated Truce

Nov. 20, 2012
Israeli warplanes

Israel and Hamas in Gaza stepped up their mutual attacks Tuesday evening, ahead of a hoped for truce on the seventh day of an Israeli offensive aimed at curbing Palestinian rocket attacks from the strip.

The Saudi pan-Arab Al Arabiya satellite channel quoted a Hamas official as saying that an expected news conference to announce a truce would "most probably" not be held Tuesday evening, and Egyptian sources as saying that an announcement of a ceasefire agreement was expected to be postponed until Wednesday.

A missile hit a house in the southern Tel Aviv suburb of Rishon le'Zion, the furthest strike from Gaza in 12 years of Palestinian rocket attacks and the first ever to land in the greater Tel Aviv area.

Volleys also hit Beersheba, Ashkelon and Israeli communities near Gaza, where a Bedouin construction worker and Israeli soldier were killed. The first military casualty in the seven-day conflict brought the Israeli death toll to five. Rescuers said they treated more than 250 Israelis, a number which includes patients suffering from shock.

The Palestinian death toll reached 133, the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza said. About half were cvilians. It also cited more than 1,000 injured.

The Israeli military said it pounded 33 "terrorist sites" in the evening alone and that it killed at least three militant leaders, two of the Islamic Jihad faction and another who it said had been responsible for a missile launched several months ago at the southern Israeli Red Sea resort of Eilat.

Palestinians said an airstrike on a car, marked with pink TV signs and travelling in western Gaa City, killed two cameramen of Hamas' al-Aqsa television.

Egyptian President Morsi said earlier that the "Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip will end today, the efforts for a ceasefire between the Palestinians and the Israeli side will have a positive result in the next few hours."

But Israeli officials would not confirm.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in Jerusalem late Tuesday evening, and earlier told a news conference with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that Israel would be willing to accept a long-term truce, although it would not shrink from a ground offensive if necessary.

"If a long-term solution can be put in place through diplomatic means, than Israel would be a willing partner to such a solution," he said.

Ban, meeting also Israeli President Shimon Peres later Tuesday evening, said Israel had the right to defend itself, but expressed strong opposition to a ground offensive, likely to push up the civilian death toll.

Five rockets had been launched at metropolitan Tel Aviv, but none of them had struck the city. Two fell into the sea, and three were destroyed by Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile defence system.

At least two rockets have also been fired at Jerusalem. One of them landed on Palestinian land south of the city limits Tuesday, just as German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, also in the region to push for a truce, was in the city's King David Hotel.

Israel launched its "Operation Pillar of Defence" on Wednesday, after years of recurring rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza.

A police statement noted a "certain decline" in the number of rockets fired at Israel since the Gaza offensive got underway on Wednesday - with 246 launches Thursday, 211 Friday, 168 Saturday, 117 Sunday and 116 Monday. But on Tuesday the number reached more than 150.

Source: Copyright 2012 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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