Both sides volley fire, truce deals
38 Palestinians die in more airstrikes
Smoke and fire are seen from an explosion by a high rise housing media organizations in Gaza City, Monday, Nov. 19, 2012. It's the Israel's military second strike on the building in two days. The Hamas TV station, Al Aqsa, is located on the top floor. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)
Palestinians carry injured people after an Israeli strike on a building in Gaza City, Monday, Nov. 19, 2012. It's the Israel's military second strike on the building in two days. Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad says an Israeli strike on a Gaza media center has killed one of its top militant leaders. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
Israeli women take cover in a stairwell as a siren signals the warning of incoming rockets in the coastal city of Ashkelon, Monday, Nov. 19, 2012. Israeli aircraft struck crowded areas in the Gaza Strip and killed a senior militant with a missile strike on a media center Monday, driving up the Palestinian death toll to 96, as Israel broadened its targets in the 6-day-old offensive meant to quell Hamas rocket fire on Israel. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)
An Israeli officer holds a Torah scroll as he reads from a holy book while others gather in a staging area near the Israel Gaza Strip Border, southern Israel, Monday, Nov. 19, 2012. The Palestinian civilian death toll mounts as Israel ferociously pursues Gaza Strip militants who are menacing nearly half of Israel's population with rocket fire. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
A member of the Abdel Aal family is rescued after his family house collapsed during an Israeli forces strike in the Tufah neighbourhood, Gaza City, Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012. The Israeli military widened its range of targets in the Gaza Strip on Sunday to include the media operations of the Palestinian territory's Hamas rulers, sending its aircraft to attack two buildings used by both Hamas and foreign media outlets. (AP Photo/Majed Hamdan)
Palestinians remove debris from a building that was damaged after an Israeli strike, in Gaza City, Monday, Nov. 19, 2012. It's the Israel's military second strike on the building in two days. Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad says an Israeli strike on a Gaza media center has killed one of its top militant leaders. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
Smoke rises following an Israeli attack on smuggling tunnels on the border between Egypt and Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, Monday, Nov. 19, 2012. (AP Photo/Eyad Baba)
Palestinians inspect the rubble in a house destroyed on Sunday by an Israeli strike in Gaza City, Monday, Nov. 19, 2012. The Palestinian civilian death toll mounted Monday as Israeli aircraft struck densely populated areas in the Gaza Strip in its campaign to quell militant rocket fire menacing nearly half of Israel's population. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)
Palestinian policeman kisses Rushdi Tamimi who died of his injuries sustained two days ago during clashes with Israeli security forces in Nabi Saleh. West Bank, in a Ramallah hospital, Monday, Nov. 19, 2012. (AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi)
Israeli border policemen stand guard during a protest against Israel's military action on the Gaza Strip in Birzeit, Monday, Nov. 19, 2012. Israeli aircraft struck crowded areas in the Gaza Strip and killed a senior militant with a missile strike on a media center Monday, driving up the Palestinian death toll to 96, as Israel broadened its targets in the 6-day-old offensive meant to quell Hamas rocket fire on Israel. (AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi)
Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers traded fire and tough cease-fire proposals yesterday, and threatened to escalate their border conflict if diplomacy fails. No deal appeared near.
An Israeli airstrike targeting a Gaza media center killed a senior militant and engulfed the building in flames. The Israeli military said the Islamic Jihad were using space there as a command center.
Gaza fighters fired 95 rockets at southern Israeli cities, nearly one-third of them intercepted by an Israeli missile shield.
A total of 38 Palestinians were killed yesterday. Two more Palestinians were killed in airstrikes past midnight, bringing the death toll since the start of Israel’s offensive to 111, including 56 civilians. Some 840 people have been wounded, including 225 children, Gaza health officials said. Three Israeli civilians have been killed and dozens have been wounded.
Over the weekend, civilian casualties in Gaza rose sharply after Israel began targeting the homes of what it said were suspected militants.
Two such strikes late yesterday killed five people – a father and his 4-year-old twin sons in northern Gaza and two people in the south, medics said.
Jamal Daloo, who lost his wife, a son, four grandchildren and five other members of his family in an attack Sunday, sat in quiet mourning yesterday next to the ruins of his home, his face streaked with tears.
“The international public opinion witnessed the facts,” he said, speaking as his 16-year-old daughter, Yara, was still missing under the rubble being cleared away by bulldozers. “This does not require my words.”
The Israeli military says Gaza militants fire rockets from residential areas. Late yesterday it released footage it said showed a miliant weapons depot hidden in a Gaza neighborhood.
Egypt, the traditional mediator between Israel and the Arab world, was at the center of a flurry of diplomatic activity yesterday. Egyptian intelligence officials met separately in Cairo with an Israeli envoy and with Khaled Mashaal, the top Hamas leader in exile.
Hamas wants Israel to halt all attacks on Gaza and lift tight restrictions on trade and movement in and out of the territory that have been in place since Hamas seized Gaza by force in 2007. Israel demands an end to rocket fire from Gaza and a halt to weapons smuggling into Gaza through tunnels under the border with Egypt.
With positions far apart on a comprehensive deal, some close to the negotiations suggested Egypt is first seeking a halt to fighting before other conditions are discussed. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks are in a sensitive stage.
Mashaal told reporters that Hamas would only agree to a cease-fire if its demands are met. “We don’t accept Israeli conditions because it is the aggressor,” he said. “We want a cease-fire along with meeting our demands.”
Mashaal also suggested that Israel’s threat of invading Gaza was simply a ploy. He said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “is waving the threat of a ground offensive and asking the world to pressure Egypt, Turkey and Qatar, so they pressure Hamas.”
“He wants to negotiate with us under fire to impose his conditions, pretending he is acting from a position of strength,” Mashaal said.
Israeli leaders have repeatedly threatened to widen the offensive, saying an invasion is an option. Israel has amassed troops on the Gaza border and begun calling up thousands of reservists.
Still, an Israeli official emphasized that Israel hopes to find a diplomatic solution.
“We prefer the diplomatic solution if it’s possible. If we see it’s not going to bear fruit, we can escalate,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the diplomatic efforts under way. He added that Israel wants international guarantees that Hamas will not rearm or use Egypt’s Sinai region, which abuts Gaza, for militant activity.
As part of global efforts to end the Gaza fighting, U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon arrived in Cairo yesterday and was to meet with Israeli President Shimon Peres today.
The U.N. Security Council held closed-door consultations at the request of Russia, and Ambassador Vitaly Churkin later accused one country of foot-dragging, implying it was the U.S.
Germany’s foreign minister was also headed to the region for talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. Today, Turkey’s foreign minister and a delegation of Arab League foreign ministers were to visit Gaza.
Hamas, an offshoot of the region-wide Muslim Brotherhood, is negotiating from a stronger position than four years ago, when Israel launched a three-week war on the militants in Gaza. At that time, Hamas was internationally isolated; now, the Muslim Brotherhood is in power in Egypt and Tunisia, and Hamas is also getting political support from Qatar and Turkey.
President Obama and other Western leaders have blamed Hamas for the latest outbreak of fighting, saying Israel has a right to defend itself against rocket attacks. However, they have also warned Israel against sending ground troops into Gaza, a move that would likely lead to a sharp increase in the Gaza death toll.
Over the years, Israeli governments have struggled to come up with an effective policy toward Hamas, which is deeply rooted in Gaza, a densely populated territory of 1.6 million.
Neither Israel’s economic blockade of the territory nor bruising military strikes have cowed the Islamists, weakened their grip on Gaza or their ability to fire rockets at the Jewish state.
Instead, the two sides have observed informal cease-fires over the years, interrupted by flare-ups of violence.