x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Egypt PM Hisham Qandil arrives in Gaza; Israel halts air strikes

Ahead of Mr Qandil's arrival, Israeli warplanes carries out new strikes on the Palestinian territory, including several hits on Gaza City, the third day of an intensive campaign which the military has said is aimed at stamping out rocket fire on southern Israel.

RAFAH, PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES // Egypt's prime minister arrived in Gaza City today after Israel agreed to halt its campaign against militants in the Hamas-run territory during his brief visit.

"The Egyptian prime minister has arrived at the Rafah crossing and officials from the Palestinian (Hamas) government are welcoming him on the Palestinian side," a Palestinian source told AFP.

Hisham Qandil later travelled on to Gaza City where he was to meet Hamas leaders and hold a press conference, officials said.

Mr Qandil's visit is expected to last three hours, during which Israel has agreed to halt its aerial campaign "on the condition that during that period there won't be hostile fire from Gaza into Israel," an Israeli official told AFP.

"prime minister (Benjamin) Netanyahu has agreed to an Egyptian request to cease fire during the visit to Gaza this morning by the Egyptian prime minister, a visit that is supposed to last some three hours," the official.

"In our response forwarded to the Egyptians, Israel has said that the IDF [Israeli military] will cease fire on the condition that during that period there won't be hostile fire from Gaza into Israel."

There was no comment from Hamas's armed wing and other militants in Gaza on whether they would also halt fire, and witnesses heard what appeared to be outgoing rocket fire after Mr Qandil's arrival, though no group immediately claimed responsibility.

Egypt's president Mohamed Morsi, who hails from the Muslim Brotherhood movement that gave birth to Hamas, warned on Thursday that Egypt would not accept Israel's "aggression" in the Gaza Strip.

Mr Morsi has ordered the foreign ministry to summon the Israeli envoy over the attacks, and called for an emergency meeting of Arab League foreign ministers, which is slated to be held in Cairo tomorrow.

Mr Morsi's spokesman, Yasser Ali, said on Thursday that Mr Qandil "will travel to Gaza to express our support for the Palestinian people and to see what they need".

The United States called on Egypt to use its sway with the Palestinians to try to end the violence from Gaza.

"We ask Egypt to use its influence in the region to help de-escalate the situation," deputy State Department spokesman Mark Toner said on Thursday.

Ahead of Qandil's arrival, Israeli warplanes carried out multiple new air strikes on the Palestinian territory, including several hits on Gaza City early today, the third day of an intensive campaign which the military has said is aimed at stamping out rocket fire on southern Israel.

"There have been 130 strikes overnight until now," the Hamas interior ministry spokesman Islam Shahwan said.

Hamas emergency services spokesman Adham Abu Selmiya said the death toll now stood at 19 Palestinians, several of them children, with a further 235 people injured.

The Israeli army said it had carried out 466 air strikes since it launched "Operation Pillar of Defence" on Wednesday afternoon with the targeted killing of Hamas commander Ahmed Al Jabari.

The army confirmed that "strikes are continuing", adding that 11 Palestinian rockets had been fired from Gaza at Israel overnight.