Israel close to agreeing ceasefire over Gaza offensive, Egypt says

UN chief, Egypt and Hillary Clinton try to strike peace deal in seventh day of deadly fighting

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 November, 2012, 3:05am

Egypt, which has been leading efforts to secure a Gaza truce after nearly a week of cross-border violence, said yesterday the Israeli "aggression" would end in hours, but the bloodshed showed no signs of abating.

Soon after Egypt's President Mohammed Mursi predicted Egyptian-mediated efforts would imminently produce "positive results," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Gaza's Hamas rulers to choose between peace and "the sword," as air strikes rocked Gaza City and a rocket exploded near Jerusalem.

The rocket crashed into an olive grove near Jabba village, in an attack claimed by the armed wing of Gaza's ruling Hamas group, the second such attempt to hit Jerusalem in five days.

Nobody was hurt, but the sirens sparked panic in the Jerusalem, with cars screeching to a halt and people dashing for cover.

In Gaza City, Israeli warplanes dropped leaflets urging people to evacuate their homes amid fears of an imminent ground invasion, and a new strike killed at least six people in Sabra neighbourhood, Hamas's health ministry said.

It came as Israel and Hamas mulled an Egyptian-mediated ceasefire on the seventh day of the Jewish state's bombing campaign against rocket-firing militants in the enclave.

In Cairo, Mursi struck an upbeat note, saying Israel's "aggression" would soon end.

"The farce of the Israeli aggression will end today, Tuesday, and the efforts to reach a ceasefire between the Palestinians and Israelis will produce positive results within a few hours," the official MENA news agency quoted him as saying.

A Hamas official said chief Khaled Meshaal and his negotiators were in a meeting with the intelligence chief. "But it's no secret we're on the verge of an agreement," he said.

Earlier, in a statement on Hamas television, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades commander Mohammed Deif said "the enemy will pay a heavy price if it thinks of entering Gaza."

The warning came after Israel halted a threatened ground offensive to give talks a chance to end the conflict that flared on Wednesday when an Israeli strike killed Deif's deputy, Ahmed Jaabari, before launching its bombing campaign.

The toll rose to more than 120 yesterday when another 14 people were killed, including a 15-year-old boy, medics said.

Three Israeli's have been killed in rocket fire from Gaza.

Amid a flurry of diplomacy, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon travelled from Cairo to Jerusalem and urged both sides to stop their fire "immediately".

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also cut short an Asia tour to head to Jerusalem, Ramallah and Cairo, and Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi was leading a solidarity visit to Gaza.

In New York, meanwhile, diplomats said the US blocked an Arab-sponsored statement on the conflict at the UN Security Council because it was "counter-productive" to the truce efforts.

Hamas is understood to be seeking guarantees Israel will stop its targeted killings, and end its six-year blockade on the coastal territory.