Egypt: Israel to Cease Gaza Onslaught
Published: November 21, 2012 (Issue # 1736)
BERNAT ARMANGUE / AP
A Palestinian woman is helped after being injured in an Israeli strike on a sports field next to her house in Gaza on Nov. 19.
JERUSALEM— Egypt’s president predicted Tuesday that Israel’s nearly weeklong offensive in the Gaza Strip would end within hours, and Israel’s prime minister said his country would be a “willing partner” to a cease-fire with Hamas aimed at ending relentless Israeli airstrikes and Palestinian rocket attacks.
As indications grew of an imminent end to the fighting, international diplomats raced across the region to cement a deal. President Barack Obama dispatched Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to the Middle East from Cambodia, where she had accompanied him on a visit.
Mohammed Morsi, perhaps the most important interlocutor between the militant Hamas group that rules the Palestinian territory and the Israelis, gave no explanation for his statement, saying only that the negotiations between the two sides will yield “positive results” during the coming hours.
In Brussels, a senior official of the European Union’s foreign service said a ceasefire would include an end to Israeli airstrikes and targeted killings in Gaza, the opening of Gaza crossing points and an end to rocket attacks on Israel. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
“If a long-term solution can be put in place through diplomatic means, then Israel would be a willing partner to such a solution. But if stronger military action proves necessary to stop the constant barrage of rockets, Israel wouldn’t hesitate to do what is necessary to defend our people,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during a joint press conference in Jerusalem with visiting UN chief Ban Ki-moon.
Ban condemned Palestinian rocket attacks, but urged Israel to show “maximum restraint.”
“Further escalation benefits no one,” he said.
Minutes before Ban’s arrival in Jerusalem from Egypt, Palestinian militants fired a rocket toward the holy city. Earlier Tuesday, a man identified as Hamas’ militant commander urged his fighters to keep up attacks on Israel, even as Israeli airstrikes killed a senior militant and five others in a separate attack on a car, according to Gaza health officials.
Israeli warplanes dropped leaflets on several Gaza neighborhoods asking residents to evacuate and head toward the center of Gaza City along specific roads. ‘The army “is not targeting any of you, and doesn’t want to harm you or your families,” it said. Palestinian militants urged residents to ignore the warnings, calling them “psychological warfare.”
Clinton was scheduled to meet with Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank and Egyptian leaders in Cairo. Turkey’s foreign minister and a delegation of Arab League foreign ministers traveled to Gaza on a separate truce mission. Airstrikes continued to hit Gaza even as they entered the territory.
“Turkey is standing by you,” Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told the Hamas prime minister in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh. “Our demand is clear. Israel should end its aggression immediately and lift the inhumane blockade imposed on Gaza.”
It was unclear how much diplomatic efforts to achieve a ceasefire and stave off a threatened Israeli ground invasion into Gaza were hampered by the hard-to-bridge positions staked out by both sides — and by the persistent attacks. Tens of thousands of Israeli soldiers have been dispatched to the Gaza border in case of a decision to invade.
Residents of Jerusalem ran for cover Tuesday when Palestinians fired a rocket toward the holy city for the second time since the fighting started last Wednesday. The rocket, which set off sirens in the city, landed harmlessly in an open area on the outskirts in one of the longest rocket strikes fired from Gaza.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the rocket landed in Gush Etzion, a collection of Jewish West Bank settlements southeast of the city. Last Friday’s attempt to hit Jerusalem, nearly 80 kilometers from Gaza, landed in the same area. No one was wounded in either attack.
Jerusalem had previously been considered beyond the range of Gaza rockets — and an unlikely target because it is home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, Islam’s third-holiest shrine. Israeli officials feared Gaza’s Hamas rulers will try to stage similar attacks deep into Israel ahead of any possible truce.
Shortly afterward, an Israeli airstrike destroyed a car in Gaza City, killing five people and seriously wounding four others. Their identities were not immediately known.
In a sign of the difficulty diplomats will have in forging such a ceasefire, a man identified as Mohammed Deif, Hamas’ elusive military commander, urged his fighters to keep up attacks on Israel.
Speaking from hiding on Hamas-run TV and radio, Deif said Hamas “must invest all resources to uproot this aggressor from our land,” a reference to Israel.