x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Gaza truce talks gain ground

A diplomatic push to end Israel's six-day offensive in the Gaza Strip gained momentum last night, with Egypt's president predicting air strikes would end within hours.

US secretary of state Hillary Clinton has been sent to the Middle East to help cement a deal.
US secretary of state Hillary Clinton has been sent to the Middle East to help cement a deal.

A diplomatic push to end Israel's six-day offensive in the Gaza Strip gained momentum last night, with Egypt's president predicting air strikes would end within hours.

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, said his country would be a "willing partner" to a ceasefire with the Islamist group Hamas after fighting that has killed almost 130 Palestinians and five Israelis.

As international diplomats raced across the region to cement a deal, a senior Hamas official said an agreement was close, even as air strikes and rocket attacks continued.

Barack Obama, the US president, sent his secretary of state Hillary Clinton to the Middle East from Cambodia, where she had accompanied him on a visit.

Egypt's president Mohammed Morsi, who has led the bid for a truce between Hamas, which rules the Palestinian territory, and the Israelis, said the negotiations between the two sides would yield "positive results" within hours.

In Brussels, a senior official of the European Union's foreign service said a ceasefire would include an end to Israeli air strikes and targeted assassinations in Gaza, the opening of Gaza crossing points and a stop to rocket attacks on Israel.

The killing of the Hamas official Ahmed Al Jabari by Israel last week led to the escalation of fighting.

In New York, the United States blocked a UN security council call for an immediate ceasefire.

"The draft press statement failed to address the root cause of the current escalation - the continuing barrage of rocket attacks from Gaza against Israel," said the US spokeswoman at the UN, Erin Pelton.

Violence raged as the talks continued. An air strike late yesterday killed two journalists who work for the Hamas TV station Al Aqsa, the channel said.

The men were in a car hit by an air strike, Gaza health official Ashraf Al Qidra said.

By yesterday, 129 Palestinians including at least 54 civilians had been killed since Israel began an air onslaught of nearly 1,500 strikes.

About 840 people have been wounded, including 225 children, Gaza health officials said.

Four Israeli civilians have also been killed and dozens wounded since the fighting began last week. An Israeli solidier was killed by rocket fire from the Gaza Strip yesterday, Israeli officials said.

A spokesman for the UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon said he "strongly cautions against Israel launching a ground operation, which would clearly result in further tragedy".

* With reporting by Reuters, Agence France-Presse and Associated Press