Middle East crisis

Ceasefire hopes slim after death toll passes 100

Hamas sticks to demand for end to Israeli blockade as UN chief arrives for talks

The death toll in Gaza soared above 100 yesterday on the sixth day of Israel's military operation, despite frantic diplomatic efforts in Cairo to end the fighting.

Inside the beleaguered Hamas-controlled enclave, Israeli aircraft and artillery pounded what the army described as "terrorist targets", but many civilians, including children, were among the victims. The Israeli army said it had attacked 1,400 targets, including individual militants, weapons storage, production facilities and smuggling tunnels.

An Israeli strike on the Al-Shorouk tower block housing several international media bureaux unleashed a furious response from journalists in Gaza and abroad. Militant group Islamic Jihad later conceded that one of its most senior figures had been killed in the attack.

Yesterday's strikes took the number of Palestinians killed since the Israeli operation began last Wednesday to 100, including 53 civilians, Gaza health officials say. Three Israelis have been killed by rocket fire from Gaza. Palestinian militants unleashed more than 100 rockets into southern Israel yesterday.

Hopes of an imminent ceasefire seemed slim yesterday as the Hamas leaders stuck to demands for a lifting of Israel's five-year blockade. UN chief Ban Ki-moon arrived in Cairo to appeal for calm as Turkish and Qatari officials joined mediation efforts to end the hostilities.

Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Kandil, dispatched to Gaza in a show of support for the Palestinians last week, was cautiously optimistic: "Negotiations are going on as we speak, and I hope we will reach something soon that will stop this violence and counter-violence," he said. "I think we are close, but the nature of this kind of negotiation [means] it is very difficult to predict."

Talks looked set to be difficult, however, with Hamas making sweeping demands that would see it emerge stronger following this latest round of violence. Hamas, bolstered by the Arab Spring movements and the rise of the Islamists in Egypt, is seeking an end to the five-year blockade of Gaza, and an end to targeted assassinations. Israel, meanwhile, is seeking assurances of a long-term ceasefire on the Palestinian side, and international guarantees that Hamas will not simply shift its base of operations to the Sinai. It has warned that it will continue the air campaign as long as the rocket fire continues, and ground troops have massed on the border.

But exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal remained defiant yesterday, insisting that while the militant group was not seeking an escalation, it would not cede ground. "We don't accept Israeli conditions because it is the aggressor," he told reporters in Egypt. "We want a ceasefire along with meeting our demands."

Israel's three top decision-makers – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defence Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman – had ended a night-long meeting at 4am yesterday with a decision to give more time for Egyptian mediation before invading. A senior Israeli official told Haaretz diplomatic correspondent Barak Ravid the odds were "50-50" between a ceasefire and a ground operation.

Polls show a majority of Israelis back their government, but Mr Netanyahu may be running out of time. Echoing warnings from President Obama, David Cameron and other leaders, opposition leader Shaul Mofaz, a former army chief of staff, and Giora Eiland, a former general and national security adviser, said there was no need to invade Gaza and urged the government to negotiate.

"An agreement with Hamas could be reached within a few days, and it would be preferable to a ground operation," said Mr Eiland.

Turkish and Qatari officials have joined mediation efforts to end the latest round of hostilities

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Technical Author / Multimedia Writer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This recognized leader in providing software s...

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent