US to call for immediate ceasefire as Gaza assault claims at least 550 lives
Published 22/07/2014 | 02:30
John Kerry, the US secretary of state, was expected to demand an immediate ceasefire in Gaza after arriving in the Middle East last night as the number killed in Israel's assault on the Palestinian enclave rose above 550.
Four people died when Israeli tanks shelled a hospital in central Gaza, while a separate air strike claimed the lives of 24 members of the same family one day after the heaviest bombardment of the two-week campaign killed 70 people in the Gaza City suburb of Shejaiya.
The carnage brought more calls for an end to hostilities, with Mr Kerry letting slip signs of American frustration with the ferocity of Israel's aerial attacks and ground incursion. In a round of television interviews ahead of his trip, he was overheard referring sarcastically to Israel's claims to be minimising civilian casualties.
"I hope they don't think that's an invitation to go do more," he said to an aide after being informed of Israeli soldiers being killed in the fighting.
"That better be the warning to them. It's a hell of a pinpoint operation, it's a hell of a pinpoint operation."
In the interviews, he did not move away from the Obama administration's defence of Israel's right to defend itself from rocket attacks by Hamas, the controlling power in Gaza, but Barack Obama himself later spoke of the death toll.
"We have serious concerns about the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths and the loss of Israeli lives," the president said.
"That is why it now has to be our focus and the focus of the international community to bring about a ceasefire that ends the fighting and can stop the deaths of innocent civilians, both in Gaza and in Israel."
Mr Kerry was due to meet Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary-general, after arriving in Cairo. Today he will meet Abdulfattah el-Sisi, the Egyptian president, and other Egyptian officials attempting to revive a proposal their government put forward last week.
The proposal was rejected by Hamas, which said it had not been consulted in advance. In an exclusive interview beforehand, Khaled Meshaal, the Hamas leader, told London's 'Daily Telegraph' it was demanding further guarantees, in particular the release of prisoners and an end to the Israeli and Egyptian blockade of its ports of entry. It agreed to a similar ceasefire proposal by Egypt during fighting in 2012, but it felt that its conditions, which included easing the blockade, had not been implemented.
A spokesman for Egypt's foreign ministry said yesterday that Cairo was now having direct talks with Hamas as well as other Palestinian factions.
He made no direct promise to reopen Egypt's closed borders with Gaza, but said Cairo was open to reviving a 2005 agreement under which the border was kept open by the Egyptians on the one side and the Palestinian Authority (PA) on the other under EU monitoring.
The PA, which is close to Egypt and the United States, has already accepted Egypt's ceasefire offer. Hamas, however, seems to be bolstered by another regional power, Qatar, in rejecting it.
Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the PA, was due to meet Mr Meshaal, in Qatar last night, to try to reach a common position. The two Palestinian entities are supposed to have "reunited" but maintain separate negotiating teams.
It is not clear that Israel itself would accept the ceasefire. It says it must now tackle the large network of tunnels stretching from the enclave under Israeli territory which it says is being used to infiltrate Hamas.
Mr Ban, the United Nations Security Council, David Cameron and other world leaders have demanded a ceasefire.
In Gaza, the violence continued. About a dozen tank shells struck al-Aqsa hospital in the central town of Deir al-Balah, exploding inside the intensive care unit, the administration building and the surgery department. The Gaza health ministry said that four people were killed and 60 injured.
Further south, an air strike destroyed a home in the town of Khan Younis, killing 24 members of the Abu Jamaa family. Israel also resumed its bombardment of the suburb of Shejaiya in Gaza City, where at least 70 people died on Sunday.
Thousands more Palestinians fled their homes, raising the number sheltering inside United Nations schools, clinics and other facilities to almost 90,000. Another seven Israeli soldiers were killed, taking the total to 25. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
Comment, Trevor Hogan: P27