GAZA/JERUSALEM, (Reuters) – Hostilities between Islamist militants and Israel entered a sixth day today as diplomatic efforts were set to intensify to try to stop rocket fire from the Gaza Strip and Israeli air strikes on Gaza.
International pressure for a ceasefire seemed certain to mount after the deadliest single incident in the flare-up yesterday claimed the lives of at least 11 Palestinian civilians, including four children.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was due to arrive in Cairo to add his weight to the truce efforts. Egypt has taken the lead in trying to broker a ceasefire and its officials met the parties on Sunday.
Israeli media said a delegation from Israel had been to Cairo for talks on ending the fighting, although a government spokesman declined to comment on the matter.
Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi met Khaled Meshaal, the political leader of Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, and Ramadan Shallah of Islamic Jihad as part of the mediation efforts, but a statement did not say if talks were conclusive.
Izzat Risheq, a close aide to Meshaal, wrote in a Facebook message that Hamas would agree to a ceasefire only after Israel “stops its aggression, ends its policy of targeted assassinations and lifts the blockade of Gaza”.
Listing Israel’s terms, Vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon wrote on Twitter: “If there is quiet in the south and no rockets and missiles are fired at Israel’s citizens, nor terrorist attacks engineered from the Gaza Strip, we will not attack.”
Israel withdrew settlers from Gaza in 2005 and two years later Hamas took control of the impoverished enclave, which the Israelis have kept under blockade.
The 11 Palestinian civilians were apparently killed during an Israeli attack on a militant, which brought a three-storey house crashing down on them.
Gaza health officials have said 75 Palestinians, 21 of them children and several women, have been killed in Gaza since Israel’s offensive began. Hundreds have been wounded.
Ban expressed grave concern in a statement before setting off for the region. He will visit Israel on Tuesday.
“I am deeply saddened by the reported deaths of more than ten members of the Dalu family… (and) by the continuing firing of rockets against Israeli towns, which have killed several Israeli civilians. I strongly urge the parties to cooperate with all efforts led by Egypt to reach an immediate ceasefire,” he said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had assured world leaders that Israel was doing its utmost to avoid causing civilian casualties in the military showdown with Hamas.