Arab League meeting today on Gaza; death toll now at 172
CAIRO: Arab League foreign ministers will meet in Cairo later Monday to discuss Israel’s deadly offensive in the Gaza Strip, which has killed at least 172 Palestinians and wounded 1,230 in its seventh day.
There have not been any Israeli fatalities.
The Arab League meeting comes amid intense international efforts to end the conflict, and with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas seeking UN intervention.
An Egyptian foreign ministry statement late on Sunday said Monday’s meeting, due to begin at 1900 GMT, “is aimed at finding a solution to stop the shedding of Palestinian civilians’ blood and to formulate a common Arab stance on the issue.”
So far, efforts to broker a cease-fire have been unsuccessful, with Cairo taking a hands-off approach.
Egypt had been key in mediating previous cease-fires, and brokered a truce between Israel and Hamas in November 2012.
However, ties between Cairo and Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist movement, have worsened since Egypt’s military ousted president Muhammad Mursi last July.
Mursi belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Hamas is an affiliate. After removing Mursi, Egypt’s military-installed authorities designated the Brotherhood a “terrorist” organization.
World leaders have been in contact with Egyptian officials, including President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, to discuss ways of ending the latest conflict.
Truce talks on hold
Israel on Monday appeared to have deferred a threatened ground operation as the air force continued to pound Gaza, bringing the Palestinian death toll to 172, and as militants fired barrages of rockets at central Israel, sending thousands running for cover in the country’s major cities.
On Sunday, the Israeli military had warned residents of Beit Lahiya to leave or risk their lives when, after nightfall, it planned to intensify air strikes against suspected Palestinian rocket sites among civilian homes.
A UN aid agency said around a quarter of Beit Lahiya’s 70,000 residents fled, fearing Israeli attacks which.
Israel says its offensive is intended to halt rocket fire at its cities from the Gaza Strip.
“The Israeli government at this stage is not answering cease-fire efforts because we want to know first that we have taken away Hamas’ desire to do this again in another year or six months,” Finance Minister Yair Lapid told army radio on Sunday.
“That’s not happened yet. When it does, then we’ll talk.”
So far, the Israeli military campaign has been almost entirely from the air.
“The IDF (military) has hit Gaza very hard, but has not hit Hamas’s armed wing hard enough,” former military intelligence head Amos Yadlin told army radio, saying that so far, only around 50 of the victims were believed to belong to the Islamist movement.
“Things are moving to another stage in which it will try to exact a very high price from Hamas’s armed wing and strengthen both our position in the cease-fire negotiations and our deterrence, as well as hitting Hamas’s ability to become stronger after the operation.”
Observers are saying Hamas fighters are also seeking to use the opportunity to capture Israeli soldiers to use as bargaining chips, as happened with Gilad Shalit — a soldier held in Gaza for five years whose freedom was bought with the release of over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.