Israeli ground offensive kills 44 Gazans on first day
CAIRO: Egypt renewed its call for a truce to end the conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza on Friday as the overall Palestinian death toll since July 8 to 285, including 44 killed on Friday as Israel pressed a major ground offensive in the coastal enclave.An Israeli soldier was also killed as troops began an offensive on the Gaza periphery aimed at destroying Hamas’s network of cross-border tunnels, the army said.
Israeli television said he died by “friendly fire”.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri, speaking at a news conference in Cairo with his French counterpart Laurent Fabius, urged all sides to engage in negotiations to end the bloodshed.
Shukri said he had increased his efforts to convince the main players to accept an Egyptian cease-fire proposal. An earlier Cairo initiative was accepted by Israel but rejected by Hamas.
“We hope that all sides will support this initiative so that bloodshed stops and this escalation does not get worse. We call on all sides to accept this proposal. We are working to find a framework so that both sides agree,” Shukri said.
Israel intensified its ground offensive in Gaza, a densely-populated enclave of 1.8 million Palestinians, with artillery, tanks and gunboats on Friday. The Israeli land advance followed 10 days of barrages against Gaza from air and sea, and hundreds of rockets fired by Hamas into Israel.
Many of those killed on Friday were children, medics said.
On Friday evening, emergency services spokesman Ashraf Al-Qudra said at least five members of a single family, among them women and a child, were killed by Israel tank fire in northern Gaza .
The five members of the Abu Jurad family — two men, two women, and a child — were killed in their home in Beit Hanun.
Previous to that, Al-Qudra said four children were killed in tank shelling in eastern Gaza City, ranging in age from two to 13-years-old.
Among them were brothers Emad Alwan, seven, and Qasem Alwan, four.
In the southern city of Rafah, meanwhile, a man was killed by tank shelling, and in Khan Younis, a 23-year-old died of wounds sustained earlier in the week.
Earlier, three people were killed in Khan Younis in the south, one man killed in Nusseirat in central Gaza and another death was reported in a cemetery in the northern Gaza Strip, Qudra said.
Elsewhere, medics found the bodies of another four people: two of them just to the east of the southern city of Rafah, and another two in Khan Younis, one of them a 17-year-old, he said.
Another eight people had earlier been killed in and around the northern town of Beit Hanun, among them three teenagers.
And in the southern city of Khan Younis, six people from two families were killed, as well as another three who were killed by tank fire.
Attacks in Rafah, which straddles the border with Egypt, claimed five lives in several different attacks, among them a five-month-old baby.
To the east of Gaza City, another person was killed in Shejaiya, and medics also found the body of a man killed in a strike south of the city.
Figures provided by the Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights show civilians account for more than 80 percent of the victims of Israel’s assault since July 8 to halt rocket fire by militants of the Islamist movement Hamas which controls the coastal strip.
At least 1,920 Palestinians have also been wounded.
Since the Israeli operation began, more than 1,207 rockets fired from Gaza have struck Israel, and another 333 have been shot down by the country’s Iron Dome air defense system, army figures show.
On the Israeli side, a civilian was killed by rocket fire earlier this week, and a soldier was killed overnight in Gaza. Four Israelis have been seriously injured.
Qatar’s help sought
France, meanwhile, asked Qatar to use its influence with Hamas to reach a cease-fire, French Foreign Minister Fabius told Reuters.
“President Mahmoud Abbas asked me to use France’s influence with its partners to try to convince Hamas to accept a cease-fire,” he said, referring to the Palestinian Authority’s president, Mohamed Abbas, whom he met earlier on Friday.
“With regard to Qatar, I told my counterpart our analysis of the situation and he underlined that, in his opinion, Hamas would need points to negotiate and, in particular, a lifting of the blockade on Gaza to accept a cease-fire,” he said.
Egypt, which has brokered cease-fires in previous Israeli-Palestinian flare-ups, sees Hamas as a security
threat because it is an offshoot of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, which was removed from power by the Egyptian army last year.
Shukri has said Hamas could have saved Palestinian lives if it had accepted the first initiative presented by Egypt.
Hamas leaders said they were frozen out of talks and not consulted on the Egyptian initiative, and that it did not address their demands, such as an end to a blockade of Gaza by Israel and Egypt.
Highlighting the difficulties in getting all sides to agree, Qatar’s foreign minister appeared to rebuff Fabius.
Minister Khaled Al-Attiyah received a phone call from Fabius on Friday in which they searched for ways to reach a cease-fire agreement, the state news agency said.
Qatar emerged as a leading supporter of Islamist groups after Arab Spring protests that began in 2011, and sees the standoff as a chance to prove itself as a mediator. It hosts a number of exiled Islamists from across the Middle East, including Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal.
Fabius meets the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi on Saturday before traveling to Jordan and Israel to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“What we need to do is to avoid falling into this vicious cycle where we won’t have a cease-fire without talks, and vice versa,” Fabius said.