Defying renewed truce calls from the UN, France and the US, Israel pounded targets across the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, scaling up the Palestinian fatality count to 616 in the third week of the conflict.
The latest strikes killed a six-month-old infant and a 24-year-old Palestinian in northern Gaza, in addition to a Palestinian bombed on a motorcycle elsewhere in the territory, Palestinian health officials said. The Israeli military said it had killed 183 militants. 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.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni insisted that Israel will not halt its fire in Gaza until it finishes an operation aimed at destroying tunnels used by militants for cross-border attacks.
Addressing reporters, with Netanyahu at his side, UN chief Ban Ki-Moon said: “My message to Israelis and Palestinians is the same: Stop fighting. Start talking. And take on the root causes of the conflict, so we are not back to the same situation in another six months or a year.”
Stepping up diplomatic efforts in Cairo, US Secretary of State Jonh Kerry urged Hamas to pursue a negotiated end to its conflict with Israel after what he said were constructive talks with Egyptian officials about their ceasefire proposal.
After meeting Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al Sisi, Kerry said there was still “work to do” to try to resolve conflict in which more than 600 people have died.
“Hamas has a fundamental choice to make and it is a choice that will have a profound impact for the people of Gaza,” Kerry told reporters in a joint appearance with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shukri.
Kerry has said the United States would provide $47 million in humanitarian aid for the Gaza Strip. He plans to stay in Cairo until Wednesday morning but has no set departure date from the region.
‘A humanitarian truce’
An Egyptian official who attended some of Kerry’s meetings said Ban was working towards reaching a humanitarian truce, perhaps lasting for several days, to get aid into the territory.
“The sensitivities between Egypt and Hamas are what is halting a final inclusive ceasefire deal,” the official said.
Palestinians lay out truce plan
At the same time, the Palestinian leadership proposed to Egypt a plan for a Gaza ceasefire to be followed by five days of negotiations to stop fighting between Palestinians and Israel, Palestinian official Azzam al Ahmed told reporters in Cairo on Tuesday.
“The Palestinian leadership offered a new suggestion in the framework of the Egyptian initiative for a ceasefire followed immediately by negotiations lasting five days,” Fatah official al Ahmed said.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 23rd, 2014.