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Egypt to intensify Gaza truce bid

16 November 2012, 17:20

Gaza City - Egypt's premier vowed on Friday to intensify Cairo's efforts to secure a truce and urged world leaders to end Israel's "aggression" in Gaza, as he visited the Hamas-run enclave.

Prime Minister Hisham Kandil's comments came as Israeli officials said the Jewish state was preparing to launch its first ground offensive in four years into the Gaza Strip and the army started calling up 16 000 reservists.

A ceasefire agreed during the brief visit quickly dissolved in violence as militants admitted firing volleys of rockets into Israel and Palestinian security sources said an Israeli air strike hit northern Gaza, killing two.

Israel accused Hamas of violating the agreement but it denied carrying out any strikes.

Kandil entered the bomb-scarred territory via the Rafah crossing early morning, decrying an Israeli assault on Gaza since Wednesday which has sent tensions soaring across a Middle East already shaken by Arab Spring uprisings and civil war in Syria.

Speaking at Gaza City's Shifa hospital after seeing the bodies of those killed in Friday's reported air strike, Kandil vowed to intensify Cairo's efforts to secure a truce and end Israel's "aggression" in Gaza.

Egypt's influence

"Egypt will not hesitate to intensify its efforts and make sacrifices to stop this aggression and achieve a lasting truce," he told reporters.

"What I saw today in Gaza, at the hospital, with the martyrs, cannot be met with silence," Kandil said. "This tragedy should not be met with silence and the whole world should take responsibility to stop the aggression."

On Thursday, Washington said it had urged Egypt "to use its influence in the region to help de-escalate the situation", the US State Department said.

Tunisian Foreign Minister Rafik Abdessalem meanwhile will visit Gaza on Saturday, the presidency said, in a statement denouncing Israeli "aggression" on the Palestinian enclave.

As the violence spiralled, Israel geared up for an expansion of the campaign, with the military sending out call-up papers to 16 000 reservists.

Senior cabinet minister Moshe Yaalon also warned that Israel was considering a ground operation in order to stamp out rocket fire.

Hamas chief killed

"We are preparing all the military options, including the possibility that forces will be ready to enter Gaza in the event that the firing doesn't stop," he wrote in a series of postings on his official Twitter account.

An AFP correspondent on the Israeli side of the border reported seeing tanks massed along the frontier, and a steady stream of reserve soldiers arriving for duty in the area.

Egypt's Islamist President Mohammed Morsi - who hails from the Muslim Brotherhood movement that gave birth to Hamas - warned on Thursday that Egypt would not accept Israel's "aggression" in the Gaza Strip.

The bloodshed began on Wednesday afternoon when Israel killed top Hamas military chief Ahmed Jaabari, sparking a massive escalation and a furious response from Cairo which promptly recalled its ambassador to the Jewish state.

US deputy State Department spokesperson Mark Toner told journalists that Washington hoped the Egyptian prime minister would deliver a message to halt the rocket fire into Israel.

"We ask Egypt to use its influence in the region to help de-escalate the situation," Toner said.

Anger in the Arab, Muslim world

Gaza was shaken by blasts throughout the night as Israeli warplanes carried out relentless sorties, as Palestinian militants fired more rockets into the Jewish state as the bloodshed entered a third day.

The escalating conflict, which has so far killed 20 Palestinians and three Israelis, who died in rocket fire, has drawn expressions of deep concern internationally and sparked anger in the Arab and Muslim world.

On Thursday, a rocket hit the sea just south of Tel Aviv, the farthest distance ever attained by fire from Gaza, in an attack claimed by the armed wing of Islamic Jihad.

Israeli news networks said it was the first time rockets had been fired at Tel Aviv since the 1991 Gulf War, when the city was hit by Iraqi Scud missiles.



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