Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Israel steps up offensive as Gaza truce talks sputter

AGENCIES

GAZA TWO cameramen working for Al-Aqsa TV and an educational programming director for the Al- Quds channel, both affiliated with Gaza’s Hamas government, were killed by Israeli airstrikes on their cars on Tuesday.

The cameramen were killed in their car not far from the main Shifa hospital in Gaza city. The al-Quds programme director was killed in his car in the central Gaza Strip.

Their deaths have sparked outrage among Gaza’s press corps and also from Hamas, which accused Israel of trying to suppress coverage of Israeli attacks in the coastal enclave.

The Israeli strikes have killed over 125 Palestinians in six days of fighting, around half of them civilians, including around 30 children.

The assault took place amid growing signals that a cease-fire is close. A top Hamas official said a deal could be wrapped up soon, and Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel would be a “willing partner” in a diplomatic solution.

A ceasefire to end almost a week of violence in and around the Gaza Strip was to be announced in Cairo on Tuesday night, Hamas and Islamic Jihad sources said.

An Israeli diplomatic source said that negotiations were ongoing.

“We are working very hard using our diplomatic channels.

We are working continuously.

But I cannot give you an estimated time of arrival (of a truce).” The diplomatic correspondent for Haaretz newspaper said that a ceasefire “might start this evening” during a visit by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Hours earlier, Egypt’s President Mohammed Morsi said Israel’s “aggression” against Gaza would end on Tuesday and Cairomediated truce efforts would produce results within hours, the official MENA news agency reported.

A senior Hamas official said “the agreement is expected to crystallise in a few hours.” The main sticking point, he said, was whether Israel would begin easing its six-year long blockade of Gaza coinciding with the truce or at a later date.

Israel on Tuesday said it was holding off a threatened Gaza ground offensive to give the truce talks a chance, after an overnight meeting of senior Israeli ministers weighed the Egyptian proposal.

Meanwhile, foreign ministers from a group of Arab states and Turkey were on their way to Gaza to show their solidarity with the Hamas-ruled Palestinian enclave, an Arab League source said on Tuesday.

“The foreign ministers of Qatar, Egypt, Morocco, Palestine, Iraq, Sudan, Lebanon, (and) Jordan along with the Turkish foreign minister left from Cairo to Al- Arish city (near Egypt’s border with Gaza) from where they will cross the Egyptian Rafah crossing into Gaza,” the Arab League source said.

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