Frantically seeking Gaza ceasefire, John Kerry mans the phones

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 July, 2014, 10:28pm
UPDATED : Friday, 25 July, 2014, 11:28pm

US Secretary of State John Kerry pressed regional proxies to nail down a Gaza ceasefire yesterday as the civilian death toll rose along with the threat of Israeli-Palestinian bloodshed spreading to the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem.

With Israel and Hamas setting seemingly irreconcilable terms for a truce that mediators hope will begin by a Muslim festival next week, Kerry worked the phones from Egypt. Aides made clear his patience was limited.

The urgency was spurred on Thursday by the killing of 15 people as they sheltered at a UN-run school in the northern Gaza Strip, which local officials blamed on Israeli shelling. Israel said its forces had come under attack from Palestinian guerillas in the area of the school and that they had shot back. It accused Hamas of preventing any evacuation.

Gaza officials said Israeli bombardments killed 19 people yesterday, including the head of media operations for Hamas ally Islamic Jihad and his son. They put the number of Palestinian deaths in 18 days of conflict at 808.

In the occupied West Bank, where US-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas governs in uneasy coordination with Israel, around 10,000 demonstrators marched in solidarity with Gazans overnight. Protesters surged against an Israeli army checkpoint, throwing rocks and petrol bombs. Palestinian medics said one was shot dead and 200 wounded when troops fired.

Israeli paramilitary police went on high alert for flare-ups at Jerusalem's most important mosque during prayers for the final stretch of the Ramadan Muslim holy month.

Yitzhak Aharonovitch, Israel's police minister and a member of the security cabinet, said he was shuttling between consultations on how to contain the hostilities.

"We have had a very difficult night," he told Israel's Army Radio. "I hope we can get through today all right."

Israel has lost 32 soldiers in the Gaza ground offensive, while three civilians have been killed in Israel by rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza. A flurry of long-range rocket launches yesterday set off sirens around Tel Aviv, where witnesses reported interceptions by the Iron Dome air defence system.