Diplomatic drive intensifies as Gaza death toll reaches to 350


GAZA: Fresh Israeli bombardments killed five people in Gaza Sunday, hiking the death toll from the assault to over 350. Israel pressed its air, sea and ground offensive against the besieged coastal territory. Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal was to meet Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in Qatar to discuss an Egyptian-proposed truce on Sunday, and the movement said it had received an invitation to Cairo for ceasefire talks.

On day 13 of the Israel’s bloodiest onslaught in several years, early morning Israeli strikes in the southern city of Rafah killed five Palestinians, medics said, raising the total death toll to 348 Palestinians.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon departed New York on Saturday and was due in the region on Sunday to bolster intense diplomatic efforts aimed at ending the bloodshed, which has included a high civilian toll.

Among some 47 Palestinians killed Saturday — one of the bloodiest days of the conflict — were two six-year-olds and a toddler, emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said.

The increasing number of children killed in the conflict is causing a growing outcry, with a joint statement from NGOs War Child and Defence for Children International saying more children had been killed than militants.

Figures provided by the UN children’s agency, Unicef, indicate 73 of the victims were under the age of 18.

Civilian casualties

“Children should be protected from the violence, and they should not be the victims of a conflict for which they have no responsibility,” Unicef’s Catherine Weibel told AFP.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu absolved Israel of all responsibility Saturday for civilian casualties, laying the blame squarely on the shoulders of Hamas.

UNRWA has opened 49 of its schools to shelter those fleeing the most heavily-bombarded areas.

So far, more than 60,000 Gazans have sought sanctuary at UN institutions, the agency said.

As Ban headed for the region to help “end the violence and find a way forward”, Hamas said it had received an invitation to Cairo to discuss a ceasefire proposed by Egypt.

Hamas invited to Cairo

Hamas “received an invitation, through mediators, for a delegation headed by Khaled Meshaal to visit Cairo and discuss the Egyptian initiative,” it said in a statement.

An Egyptian foreign ministry official said he could not confirm or deny the new invitation.

Abbas and Meshaal will meet in Qatar Sunday to discuss the Egyptian-proposed truce, an official close to Abbas said.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum told AFP his movement had given “the demands of the resistance to all the parties concerned, including Qatar, Turkey and the Arab League” as well as Abbas and Egypt.

The demands included an end of the “war on the Gaza Strip,” a complete lift of the siege on it, opening the Rafah crossing with Egypt, freedom of movement in the border areas, cancelling the buffer zone and expanding the freedom to fish 12 nautical miles from shore.

Earlier, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed his disappointment over Israel’s air campaign in the Gaza Strip, accusing the Jewish State of seeking a “systematic genocide” of the Palestinians.

“The Western world remains silent, so does the Islamic world. Because those who lost their lives are Palestinian, you can’t hear their voices,” Erdogan said.

The outbreak of violence follows the kidnappings and killings of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank, and the kidnapping and killing of a Palestinian teenager in an apparent revenge attack.

Thousands of pro-Palestinian demonstrators had turned out on the streets of London, Paris, Rome, New York, and other cities to call for an end to Israeli military strikes on Gaza.