Death toll in Gaza nears 100 with latest air strikes by Israel
China sides with Arab states on Palestinian issue as it urges Israelis to show maximum restraint
Israeli aircraft struck crowded areas in the Gaza Strip and killed a senior militant with a missile strike on a media centre yesterday, driving up the Palestinian death toll to 96, as global efforts to broker a truce to end the worst violence in four years gathered pace.
International concern at the six-day-old offensive was mounting, with China calling for "maximum restraint" by all parties - especially Israel.
"We strongly urge relevant parties, in particular Israel, to exercise maximum restraint," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said. "China supports Arab countries' just position on the Israeli-Arab issue."
A UN Security Council member, China has voiced support for the Palestinian push for statehood and urged the international community to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but not played an active role itself.
Escalating its bombing campaign over the weekend, Israel began attacking homes of activists in Hamas, the Islamic militant group that rules Gaza. These attacks have led to a sharp increase in civilian casualties, killing 24 civilians in just under two days and doubling the number of civilians killed in the conflict, a Gaza health official said.
While Israel and Hamas were far apart in their demands for a ceasefire, both sides said they were open to a diplomatic solution - and prepared for further escalation if that failed.
The leader of Hamas took a tough stance, rejecting Israel's demands that the militant group stop its rocket fire. Instead, Khaled Mashaal said, Israel must meet Hamas' demands for a lifting of the blockade of Gaza.
"We don't accept Israeli conditions because it is the aggressor," he said in Egypt. "We want a ceasefire along with meeting our demands." An Israeli official said Israel hoped to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis as well, and signalled Egypt was likely to play a key role in enforcing any truce.
"We prefer the diplomatic solution if it's possible. If we see it's not going to bear fruit, we can escalate," he said.
Hamas fighters have fired hundreds of rockets into Israel in the fighting, including 75 yesterday, among them one that hit an empty school.
In yesterday's violence, an Israeli air strike on a building in Gaza City killed Ramez Harb, a senior figure in Islamic Jihad's military wing, the Al Quds Brigades, the group said. A passer-by was also killed, medics said.
Egypt is trying to broker a ceasefire with the help of Turkey and Qatar. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and a delegation of Arab foreign ministers were expected in Gaza today.
A senior Egyptian official said Hamas and Israel were each presenting Egypt with their conditions for a ceasefire.
"I hope that by the end of the day we will receive a final signal of what can be achieved."
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse