News Middle East

Wednesday 17 September 2014

US to call for immediate ceasefire as Gaza assault claims at least 550 lives

Richard Spencer and David Blair

Published 22/07/2014 | 02:30

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Palestinian medics tend to a boy who they said was wounded in an Israeli shelling, at a hospital, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. The Palestinian death toll rose above 500 on Monday as the army said it had killed 10 militants who tunneled into Israel, while Gazan officials said an Israeli tank shelled a hospital, killing civilians. Photo: REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
Palestinian medics tend to a boy who they said was wounded in an Israeli shelling, at a hospital, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. The Palestinian death toll rose above 500 on Monday as the army said it had killed 10 militants who tunneled into Israel, while Gazan officials said an Israeli tank shelled a hospital, killing civilians. Photo: REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
Palestinians flee from Bet Lahiya in the Gaza Strip as it comes under attack from Israeli shelling
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrives in Cairo July 21, 2014

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.

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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."

Attacks

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.

Smoke and fire from the explosion of an Israeli strike rise over Gaza City, Gaza Strip, Tuesday, July 22, 2014, as Israeli airstrikes pummeled a wide range of locations along the coastal area and diplomatic efforts intensified to end the two-week war. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)
Smoke and fire from the explosion of an Israeli strike rise over Gaza City, Gaza Strip, Tuesday, July 22, 2014, as Israeli airstrikes pummeled a wide range of locations along the coastal area and diplomatic efforts intensified to end the two-week war. AP
Israeli soldiers ride atop an armoured personnel carrier (APC) outside the northern Gaza Strip July 22, 2014. Israel pounded targets across the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, saying no ceasefire was near as top U.S. and U.N. diplomats pursued talks on halting fighting that has claimed more than 500 lives. With the conflict entering its third week, the Palestinian death toll rose to 546, including nearly 100 children and many other civilians, Gaza health officials said. Israel's casualties also mounted, with the military announcing the deaths of two more soldiers, bringing the number of army fatalities to 27 - almost three times as many as were killed in the last ground invasion of Gaza, in a 2008-2009 war. REUTERS/Baz Ratner
Israeli soldiers ride atop an armoured personnel carrier (APC) outside the northern Gaza Strip. Israel pounded targets across the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, saying no ceasefire was near as top US and U.N. diplomats pursued talks on halting fighting that has claimed more than 500 lives. Reuters
The bodies of three of the four Palestinian children from the Baker family, whom medics said were killed by a shell fired by an Israeli naval gunboat, is carried from the morgue in Gaza City.Photo: REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly
The bodies of three of the four Palestinian children from the Baker family, whom medics said were killed by a shell fired by an Israeli naval gunboat, is carried from the morgue in Gaza City.Photo: REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly

"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.

Tunnels

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

Telegraph.co.uk

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