Diplomatic efforts for Gaza truce intensify

AFP , Ahram Online , Thursday 20 May 2021

A ceasefire could be reached by Friday, according to sources involved in the discussions

Gaza Strip
Palestinians inspect the damage of their shops following Israeli airstrikes on Jabaliya refugee camp, northern Gaza Strip, Thursday, May 20, 2021 AP

Diplomats stepped up efforts Thursday toward a ceaseefire to stem 10 days of Israel's aerial campaign on Gaza Strip, while Hamas downplayed the recent reports that claimed that a possible ceasefire between the Palestinian armed factions in Gaza and Israel might happen in the next two days, saying that "we will force Israel to surrender to our conditions. "We will remain ready until the last minute before the ceasefire," the group added.

Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that  a ceasefire could be reached by Friday, according to sources involved in the discussions.

Hamas political official Moussa Abu Marzouk also told al-Mayadeen TV that he believes "ongoing efforts regarding the ceasefire" would succeed. "I expect a ceasefire to be reached within a day or two, and the ceasefire will be on the basis of mutual agreement," he said.

Meanwhile a column of grey smoke billowed above Gaza after a night in which families cowered in fear from the bombing while, the Israeli army said, some 70 rockets were fired from Gaza toward Israel, sending residents fleeing into bomb shelters.

Talks aiming to end the bloodshed continued after US President Joe Biden urged a "significant de-escalation" while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to push on until the military campaign reaches its objective, "to restore quiet and security" for Israelis.

Germany's Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, speaking in Tel Aviv on Thursday, expressed his "solidarity" with Israel but also called for an end to the Israeli campaign on Gaza Strip.

"Israel has the right to defend itself against this massive and unacceptable attack," Maas said of the rockets Hamas first fired on May 10 amid high tensions and violent clashes between Israeli police and Palestinians in Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque compound.

"The number of victims is rising every day and this greatly concerns us, which is why we support the international efforts for a ceasefire and are convinced that the violence needs to end soon in the interest of the people."

Maas was also due to meet Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank but had no plans to meet with Hamas, which the European Union considers a terrorist organisation.

The Israeli army said Hamas and other Islamist armed groups in Gaza have fired 4,070 rockets towards Israel, the overwhelming majority of them intercepted by its Iron Dome air defences.

The rockets have claimed 12 lives in Israel with one Indian and two Thai nationals among those killed, the police says.

Israeli strikes on Gaza have killed 230 Palestinians, including 65 children, according to the Gaza health ministry, leaving vast areas in rubble and displacing tens of thousands in the crowded territory.

Overnight, Israel continued to pound Gaza with air strikes and artillery fire aimed at destroying Hamas tunnels and other infrastructure, the military said.

One Israeli strike on Gaza on Wednesday killed a disabled man, his pregnant wife and their three-year-old child, the enclave's health ministry said.

"What did my brother do?" the man's brother Omar Saleha, 31, told AFP. "He was just sitting in his wheelchair."

Elsewhere, Gaza resident Abdullah Abu Eshkia surveyed the destruction caused by a hit in the Jabaliya camp, saying: "We can only see civilians here. They are targeting civilians."

Israel says it takes all steps to avoid civilian casualties, including by phoning residents to warn them of imminent strikes.

The United States, a key Israel ally, has repeatedly blocked adoption of a joint UN Security Council statement calling for a halt to Israel's offensive on Gaza, including one proposed by France, saying it could undermine efforts to de-escalate the crisis.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken however again stressed Thursday on Twitter that Washington "expects to see de-escalation on the path to a ceasefire."

An Israeli military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Wednesday Israel was assessing at what stage it may stop its military campaign.

Two foreign diplomatic sources in Jerusalem on Wednesday said a ceasefire was not yet imminent, while a third said the risk of spillover in the region made a ceasefire even more "urgent".

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh said the group that has run Gaza since 2007 could "continue its resistance" longer than Israel estimated.

Israel's bombing campaign has left the two million people of Gaza, which has been under Israeli blockade for 14 years, desperate for relief.

Hospitals have been overwhelmed, and some 75,000 civilians have fled their homes, seeking refuge in UN-run schools and other public buildings, the United Nations says.

The International Committee of the Red Cross warned that people in both Gaza and Israel "urgently need respite from non-stop hostilities".

The Israeli military briefly opened a border crossing with Gaza to allow for relief supplies to be delivered Tuesday, but closed it after mortars were fired at the area.

Amid the conflict, rockets were also fired from neighbouring Lebanon into Israel on Wednesday, which responded with artillery strikes.

Israel's offensive on Gaza began following its crackdown on Palestinian civilians and protesters in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Many Palestinian citizens of Israel, whose forefathers remained on their land after Israel's creation in 1948, took part in a general strike on Tuesday.

In the West Bank, the army has killed 25 Palestinians since the outbreak of the crackdown.


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