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Israel ups threats to Gaza despite truce efforts

Though truce efforts intensify with both France and Egypt trying to broker a ceasefire, Israel threatens to expand its assault on Gaza

AFP , Sunday 18 Nov 2012
A woman photographs Israeli soldiers on top an armored personnel carrier close to the Israel Gaza Border, southern Israel,Thursday, Nov. 15, 2012 (Photo: AP)
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Israel on Sunday threatened to expand its assault on Gaza as it pressed ahead with a fifth day of strikes, killing six people including four children as truce efforts intensified.

As France's top diplomat Laurent Fabius arrived in the region to bolster Egyptian efforts to broker a ceasefire, Palestinian officials said it was possible a deal would be reached "today or tomorrow."

But there was no letup in the bloodshed, with Sunday's victims including three toddlers and a 13-year-old girl in a relentless campaign of air strikes which has stoked Arab and Islamic anger.

The latest deaths hiked the Palestinian death toll to 52, even as the Israeli army said there had been no militant rocket fire during the night. Three Israelis have been killed by rocket fire since Wednesday.

The 10-hour lull ended at 7:00 am (0500 GMT) after which 33 rockets hit Israel and another five were intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system, the army said.

Two were fired at Tel Aviv, triggering air raid sirens in the commercial metropolis for the fourth day. Iron Dome intercepted both, police said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was ready to "significantly expand" its operation against militants in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip even as he prepared to receive Fabius, who is on a whirlwind truce mission to the region.

"We are extracting a heavy price from Hamas and the terror organisations," Netanyahu said at the weekly cabinet meeting. "The army is prepared to significantly expand the operation."

Netanyahu said he was holding ongoing talks with world leaders, "and we appreciate their understanding of Israel's right to self-defence."

His remarks came as thousands of Israeli troops backed by armour massed along the border, fuelling fears of a ground assault.

Three of Sunday's youngest victims were named as three-year-old Tamer Abu Saeyfan and his one-year-old sister Jumana, and 18-month-old Iyyad Abu Khusa.

A missile strike on the beachfront Shati refugee camp in Gaza City killed Tasneem al-Nahal, 13, and another adult member of her family, the Hamas-run health ministry and witnesses said.

Her body lay in a mortuary in a pink and blue tracksuit, an AFP correspondent reported.

Doctors said she had been killed by shrapnel wounds to the head.

Witnesses at Shati confirmed seeing the two killed in a hit on a small house in the camp, which gutted several nearby cars, the correspondent reported.

Shattered glass littered the floor by a large pool of blood, as women screamed and wept hysterically. A nearby minibus was peppered with holes, its windows all blown out by the blast.

Aircraft also hit two media centres in Gaza City, wounding at least eight journalists, one of whom lost a leg, health ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra told AFP.

The bombardment came despite mounting Arab talk of a possible truce as talks intensifed in Cairo involving Hamas and the other key militant group behind the rocket fire on Israel, Islamic Jihad.

"There are serious talks to reach a truce, and it is possible that understandings will be reached today or tomorrow," a senior Palestinian official told AFP.

Egyptian mediators were engaged in "intensive communication with all parties to reach a truce as quickly as possible," an Egyptian security source said.

"We have reached important understandings but we still have a little way to go in order to complete the truce agreement in order to achieve security and stability and... ensure it doesn't happen again."

British Foreign Secretary William Hague pressed Israel not to escalate the conflict by sending ground troops into Gaza.

"The prime minister (David Cameron) and I have both stressed to our Israeli counterparts that a ground invasion of Gaza would lose Israel a lot of the international support and sympathy that they have in this situation," Hague told Sky News.

In Tel Aviv, sirens sounded for the fourth straight day, sending pedestrians and drivers running for cover, in an attack claimed by Hamas militants.

Seven rockets have been fired at Tel Aviv since Thursday, with three hitting the sea, three intercepted by Iron Dome and another slamming into open ground.

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