Gaza toll tops 800 as US, UN seek seven-day truce

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GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories: Israeli fire on Gaza killed a pregnant woman and a senior Islamic Jihad figure on Friday, taking the Palestinian death toll from 18 days of violence to 815, emergency services said.

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Surgeons saved the life of the 23-year-old woman’s unborn child after the air strike hit a house in the central Gaza town of Deir al-Balah, emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said.

Another air raid killed a senior spokesman for Islamic Jihad, the second largest militant group in Gaza after Hamas, which dominates the territory.

Salah Hasanein’s sons, 12 and 15, were also killed in the strike in the southern city of Rafah, Qudra said.

Islamic Jihad confirmed the deaths.

The strikes took the Palestinian death toll in Gaza since Israel launched its offensive on July 8 to 815.

Nearly 100 Palestinians were killed on Thursday, one of the bloodiest days of the conflict.

Rockets and mortar rounds fired into Israel have killed three civilians—two Israelis and a Thai farm worker—and fighting in and around Gaza has killed 32 Israeli soldiers.

It is the bloodiest conflict around the blockaded Palestinian territory since 2008-2009.

Human rights watchdogs say that some 80 percent of the Palestinian dead have been civilians, many of them women or children.

An incident on Thursday, in which Israeli shelling of a United Nations facility sheltering displaced Gazans killed at least 15 civilians, has drawn widespread international condemnation.

UN chief Ban Ki-Moon said he was “appalled” at the shelling which “underscores the imperative for the killing to stop — and to stop now.”

Washington said it was “deeply saddened and concerned about the tragic incident,” without explicitly blaming its ally Israel.

Amid intense international pressure on both sides to cease fire, Israel’s security cabinet was to meet on Friday to discuss a truce proposal passed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by US Secretary of State John Kerry, media reported.

It proposes a week-long humanitarian ceasefire that would allow Hamas, the de facto power in Gaza, to save face after having rejected an Egyptian initiative last week that proposed a lasting truce first and negotiations later.

According to Western and Palestinian officials, once a humanitarian lull takes hold, delegations from Israel and Hamas would arrive in Cairo—which has mediated past conflicts between the two — for indirect talks that could lead to a lasting truce.

Seven-day truce
“The way it’s going is there will be a humanitarian truce declared for seven days, and then everyone comes to Cairo for the talks,” said an official with president Mahmud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

Kerry on Thursday reached out to Hamas allies Turkey and Qatar, and was joined in Cairo by UN chief Ban and British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond to push forward the plan, diplomats said.

Hamas’ exiled leader Khaled Meshaal, however, told the BBC in an interview on Thursday that any truce must include a guaranteed end to Israel’s eight-year blockade of Gaza.

“We want a ceasefire as soon as possible, that’s parallel with the lifting of the siege of Gaza,” he said.

The latest truce efforts came on the last Friday of Ramadan, as Israeli braced for West Bank and east Jerusalem unrest after Palestinian factions declared a “Day of Rage” in the West Bank and Israeli police restricted entry to the Al Aqsa compound to men aged 50 and above.

One Palestinian was killed and 150 injured in clashes with Israeli forces in the West Bank, Palestinian medics said, with Israeli police arresting 29 in east Jerusalem.

Thursday’s strike hit a UN school sheltering some of the 100,000 Palestinians driven from their homes after weeks of deadly fighting between Israeli troops and Hamas militants.

The shell hit a courtyard where people were camped, killing least 15 people and wounding more than 200.

“Many have been killed— including women and children, as well as UN staff,” Ban said.

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) said that before the strike it had been trying to coordinate with the army to evacuate civilians, without success.

Israeli army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner suggested rocket-firing militants near the school could have caused the deaths.

He also disputed the claim that Israel had rejected a humanitarian truce around the school, saying it had implemented a four-hour window for evacuations.

Rising civilian toll
The Gaza-based Palestinian Centre for Human Rights has said more than 80 percent of the casualties so far have been civilians, a quarter of them children, triggering growing international alarm.

UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos expressed deep concern over the mounting civilian casualties, saying it was “almost impossible” for Palestinians to shelter from Israeli air strikes in the densely populated territory.

A military spokeswoman told Agence France-Presse that militants had fired two rockets at southern Israel early on Friday, bringing the number of rockets and mortar rounds from Gaza that hit Israel since July 8 to 1,850, with another 470 intercepted by the Iron Dome defense system.

AFP

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