Saturday 27 December 2014

Hopes of Gaza peace deal draw close

Published 20/11/2012 | 02:04

Smoke and fire from an explosion by a high rise housing media organizations in Gaza City (AP/Hatem Moussa)
Palestinians sift through the rubble of a family house following an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City (AP)
Palestinians run away from a damaged building after an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City (AP)

The prospect of a Hamas-Israel ceasefire has drawn closer after encouraging hints that both sides were near to a deal.

Israel and Hamas said they were open to diplomatic mediation efforts being led by Egypt, but they remained apart in their demands. Hamas officials said agreement was close.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a meeting with UN chief Ban Ki-moon, in the region as part of an international diplomatic push to end nearly a week of fighting, said that "if a long-term solution can be put in place by diplomatic means, Israel will be a willing partner."

Israel launched the offensive last week to end months of rocket fire from the Gaza Strip. Mr Ban has condemned the rocket attacks but urged Israel to show "maximum restraint." He also has offered his services to help broker a truce.

Earlier Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi said Israel's "aggression" against Gaza will end on Wednesday. Mr Morsi did not provide any evidence to support his prediction , he only said negotiations between Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers will yield "positive results" during the coming hours.

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama sent Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the region as the US urgently sought to end the conflict that has killed more than 100 people in the last week. Mrs Clinton touched down and headed to Jerusalem for talks with Mr Netanyahu amid mixed signs about the prospects of a ceasefire.

She is also due to meet Palestinian officials in Ramallah, in the West Bank, and Egyptian leaders in Cairo. Her trip marks the Obama administration's most forceful engagement in the conflict . While the US has backed Israel's right to defend itself against rocket fire from Gaza, Washington has warned its ally against pursuing a ground assault that would further escalate the violence and could dramatically increase casualties on both sides.

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.

Civilians account for 54 of the 113 Palestinians killed since Israel began an air onslaught that has so far included nearly 1,500 strikes. Some 840 people have been wounded, including 225 children, Gaza health officials said. Three Israeli civilians have also been killed and dozens wounded since the fighting began, the numbers possibly kept down by a rocket-defence system that Israel developed with US funding. More than 1,000 rockets have been fired at Israel this week, the military said.

Later, the Israeli military said an 18-year-old soldier was killed in a rocket attack on southern Israel. It was the military's first fatality since it launched the Gaza offensive.

Press Association

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