x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

More blood spilt in Gaza as peace bid gathers pace

The UAE's Sheikh Abdullah attacks the global reaction to the crisis, as Hamas and Israel say they are open to a diplomatic solution or an escalation should it fail.

GAZA CITY // At least 25 Palestinians were killed by Israeli attacks on Gaza yesterday as global efforts for a truce, led by Egypt, gathered pace.

In the sixth day of bloodshed, an Israeli missile killed a senior Islamic Jihad militant, Ramez Harb, in a strike on a Gaza City tower housing local and international media, the Israeli army and militants said.

Harb was a leader in the group's military wing, the Al Quds Brigades, the group said. Islamic Jihad works with Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, and said it believed Harb was the target for the strike.

While Israel and Hamas were far apart in demands to end the fighting that has killed more than 100 Palestinians and three Israelis, they said they were open to a diplomatic solution - and ready for escalation if it failed.

In an attack on the global response to the Israeli assault, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, said yesterday: "It is easy to condemn and denounce the assaults that are happening to the Palestinians, however the main problem is the arrogance of the occupation."

Sheikh Abdullah said peace in the Middle East could not be achieved while that arrogance continued.

"The area cannot continue to be viewed with a double standard; one standard for Israel and another for the other countries in the area," he said.

"What is clear to us is this status quo cannot be something that can be accepted by Arab and Muslim nations."

Egypt was leading mediations for an end to the fighting in talks in Cairo. "I hope that by the end of the day we will receive a final signal of what can be achieved," said an Egyptian official.

He said Israel and Hamas were looking for guarantees to ensure a long-term stop to hostilities and that Egypt's aim was to stop the fighting and "find a direct way to lift the siege of Gaza".

The leader of Hamas took a tough stance, rejecting Israel's demands that the militant group stop its rocket fire and insisting that Israel meet Hamas's demands for a lifting of the blockade of Gaza.

"We don't accept Israeli conditions because it is the aggressor," Khaled Mashaal said in Egypt. "We want a ceasefire along with meeting our demands.

"For this issue to be resolved it has to be solved from its roots and the best way is to end the occupation."

An Israeli official said Israel hoped to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

"We prefer the diplomatic solution if it's possible. If we see it's not going to bear fruit we can escalate," he said.

He said Israel did not want a "quick fix" that would result in renewed fighting months down the road. Instead, Israel wanted "international guarantees" that Hamas would not rearm or use Egypt's neighbouring Sinai Peninsula for militant activity.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon is to meet Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas as part of the growing push for a Gaza war ceasefire, his spokesman said yesterday.

"The secretary general wishes to add his diplomatic weight to these efforts, which are considerable and extremely important," the UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said in Cairo, where Mr Ban arrived yesterday. Hamas fighters have fired hundreds of rockets into Israel in the current round of fighting, including at least 75 yesterday, among them one that hit an empty school.

Twenty rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile battery, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said. Rockets landed in open areas of Beersheva, Ashdod and Asheklon. Schools in southern Israel have been closed since the start of the offensive on Wednesday.

At an Islamic conference in Istanbul yesterday, Turkey's prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called Israel a terrorist state and said he did not trust the UN because it lacked a Muslim voice. Some delegates at the conference burst into applause when he attacked Israel and accused the UN of bias. Mr Erdogan said also accused the West of ignoring the "sufferings of Muslims in Palestine, Syria and Myanmar because of lack of oil", and said the UN was merely watching the killings in Syria. Inter-government ties between Turkey and Israel, once close military allies, have been strained since an Israeli raid killed Turks on a Gaza-bound aid ship in 2010.

On November 6, Islamist demonstrators cheered as a Turkish court began the trial of four Israeli officers accused in their absence of ordering the raid.

While Hamas is considered a terrorist group by Israel, the US and the European Union, Mr Erdogan's government has cultivated diplomatic relations with the group.

Russia on yesterday accused the US of seeking to "filibuster" a UN security council statement on the crisis and said it could propose a full resolution on the conflict.

Russia's UN envoy Vitaly Churkin said one country on the 15-nation council indicated "quite transparently that they will not be prepared to go along with any reaction of the security council."

Mr Churkin did not name the country but diplomats said the US was holding up a statement sought by Arab nations.

In a related development, a senior Lebanese security official said military experts has dismantled two Katyusha rockets aimed at Israel. They were found in south Lebanon.

The official said the rockets found yesterday near the village of Halta were placed about four kilometres away from the Lebanon-Israel border and were equipped with timers.

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