Truce elusive as Hamas, Israel stick to positions
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) – The top Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip signaled Monday that the Islamic militant group will not agree to an unconditional cease-fire with Israel, while Israel’s defense minister pledged to keep fighting “as long as necessary” – raising new doubt about the highest-level mediation mission in two weeks.
U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Cairo on Monday to launch a new push to end the deadliest conflict between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers in just over five years.
Meanwhile, cross-border fighting continued unabated, with Israeli strikes leaving entire families buried under rubble and Hamas militants firing more than 50 rockets and trying to sneak into Israel through two tunnels, the latest in a series of such attempts.
For the second day in a row, the daily Palestinian death toll surpassed 100 on Monday, pushing the total number killed since the new round of fighting began on July 8 to at least 566, Palestinian officials said, adding that some 3,350 have been wounded.
Seven Israeli soldiers also were killed Monday in clashes with Palestinian militants, the Israeli military said. That raised the overall Israeli death toll to 27, including two civilians. The Israeli military said four soldiers were killed in a firefight with Hamas fighters trying to sneak into Israel through a tunnel, and that the other three were killed in battles in Gaza.
Mounting casualties on both sides have led international officials to step up diplomatic efforts to end the worst bout of fighting between the two sides since 2009.
On Monday, President Barack Obama reaffirmed his belief that Israel has the right to defend itself against rockets being launched by Hamas into Israel. Yet he contended that Israel’s military action in Gaza had already done “significant damage” to the Hamas terrorist infrastructure and said he doesn’t want to see more civilians getting killed.
Ban and Kerry were in Egypt to try to salvage an Egyptian cease-fire proposal that had been accepted by Israel last week but rejected by Hamas, which is demanding the lifting of a 7-year-old blockade of Gaza first.
When asked about such conditions, Ban told reporters Monday in Cairo that “the best way at this time is to stop the violence and return to dialogue and address the root causes of the problems.”
“I am asking again without any condition, they must stop,” he said. “I know that this proposal by Egyptian government … has been rejected because of certain conditions. If they really want to discuss all these conditions, they will take a very long time.”
Israeli fighter planes struck homes and a high-rise tower in Gaza, in at least four cases burying more than two or more members of a single family under the rubble, said Ashraf al-Kidra, a Palestinian health official.
The strike on the Gaza City tower brought down most of the building, killing 11 people and wounding 40, witnesses and a health official said.
Also, rescuers going through the wreckage of a house targeted late Sunday retrieved 28 bodies in the town of Khan Younis, including at least 24 from the Abu Jamea family, according to al-Kidra and a local human rights group.
“Doesn’t this indicate that Israel is ruthless?” said family member Sabri Abu Jamea. “Are we the liars? The evidence is here in the morgue refrigerators. The evidence is in the refrigerators.”
Israeli tank shells also hit the Al Aqsa Hospital in the central town of Deir el-Balah, killing at least four people and wounding 60, al-Kidra said.