- Egypt’s president Mohammed Mursi said he would not leave Gaza on its own and condemned Israel’s ‘aggression’
- Onlookers fear a ground invasion as Israeli ministers call up 75,000 reservists
- A Palestinian rocket has targeted Tel Aviv on the third day of an Israeli military operation against Gaza
- Palestinian death toll stands at 29, including 16 civilians. Yesterday 3 Israelis were killed by a rocket
- Warplanes bombed open land along the border with Israel – a possible softening-up stage to clear the way for tanks
- Jordan’s King Abdullah has cancelled a trip to Britain amid fears that his country could be the next to experience the Arab Spring
PUBLISHED: 03:59 EST, 16 November 2012 | UPDATED: 04:42 EST, 17 November 2012
Egyptian leaders promised to support Gaza against Israeli attack yesterday amid increasing signs that a massive ground invasion could be launched by Israel this weekend.
President Mohammed Mursi said he would not leave Gaza on its own and condemned Israel’s ‘blatant aggression against humanity’.
The declaration, hours after a visit to Gaza by Egypt’s prime minister, increased tensions in the region where Hamas militants continued to fire rockets into southern Israel – with three landing near Jerusalem – and Israeli warplanes pounded Palestinian targets.
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Strong words: Egypt’s prime minister rushed to the aid of the Gaza Strip’s Hamas rulers today in the midst of an Israeli offensive there, calling the Israeli attacks ‘a blatant aggression against humanity’
Mr Mursi, whose Muslim Brotherhood is linked to Hamas, did not elaborate on what form the support would take. Egypt is trying to broker a ceasefire or peace agreement but with Hamas firing rockets across the border, and Israel calling up 75,000 reservists, there are fears it may already be too late.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a four-hour strategy session with a clutch of senior ministers in Tel Aviv on widening the military campaign, while other cabinet members were polled by telephone on raising the mobilisation level.
Political sources in Israel said they decided to more than double the current reserve troop quota set for the Gaza offensive to 75,000. The move did not necessarily mean all would be called into service.
Meanwhile Jordan’s King Abdullah cancelled a trip to Britain next week amid fears that his country could be the next to experience the Arab Spring’s demands for change.
Protesters packed the streets of the capital Amman yesterday demanding the end of the monarch’s rule.
King Abdullah had been due to visit Britain next week to speak to the Jewish community in London. The cancellation followed protests in Amman which spread to other parts of the country. At least one person was killed and 75 injured, including 58 policemen.
Among those taking part was the Muslim Brotherhood, which Jordan has accused of inciting the unrest to score political points ahead of parliamentary elections in January.
In Gaza, Egyptian prime minister Hisham Kandil held the bloodied body of a child during his visit to a hospital, promising: ‘Egypt will spare no effort to stop the aggression and to achieve a truce.
‘What I am witnessing in Gaza is a disaster and I can’t keep quiet. The Israeli aggression must stop.’
With tears streaming from his eyes, Mr Kandil claimed the boy was killed in an Israeli airstrike and called for an end to the operation.
‘What I saw in the hospital, the wounded and the martyrs, the boy, the martyr Mohammad Yasser, whose blood is still on my hands and clothes, is something that we cannot keep silent about,’ he said.
Ten-month-old Haneen Tafesh was another casualty, killed on Thursday when flying shrapnel from an air attack on a field next to her family’s shack struck her in the head.
‘What did she do? Did she fire any rockets?’ asked her 23-year-old father, Khaled Tafesh, as he waited outside the Shifa hospital morgue in Gaza City, preparing for the funeral of his only child.
Israeli vice prime minister Moshe Yaalon held out the possibility of peace while his country’s army continued its build-up of forces.
Mr Yaalon said: ‘If Hamas says it understands the message and commits to a long ceasefire, via the Egyptians or anyone else, this is what we want. We are in contact with the Egyptian defence ministry. And it could be a channel in which a ceasefire is reached.’
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said she was appalled that civilians were being killed, including three Israelis in their apartment and several Palestinian children, including a baby, and a pregnant woman.
Her spokesman, Rupert Colville, told reporters on Friday that Pillay condemns the indiscriminate firing of rockets from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel and is extremely concerned by the sharp increase in aerial attacks by Israeli forces on the heavily populated Gaza Strip.
With rockets from the Gaza Strip targeting Tel Aviv, Colville said Pillay ‘urges both sides to pull back from an increasingly dangerous confrontation.’
Israel targeted more than 130 locations in Gaza overnight on Thursday aimed at knocking out rocket-firing facilities which they say have been positioned close to schools and hospitals.
The Israel Defence Forces said they had targeted more than 450 ‘terror activity sites’ in the Gaza Strip since Operation Pillar of Defence began with the assassination of Hamas’s top military commander in an Israeli missile strike.
The conflict poses a test of Mr Mursi’s commitment to Egypt’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel, which the West views as the bedrock of Middle East peace.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which brought him to power in an election after the downfall of pro-Western Hosni Mubarak, called yesterday for a Day of Rage in Arab capitals condemning Israel. Twenty-two Palestinians, including at least five children and a pregnant woman, and three Israelis have been killed since Wednesday.
Tanks and self-propelled guns were seen near the border area yesterday, fuelling talk of an Israeli offensive, while sirens sounded again over Tel Aviv and Jerusalem after witnesses in Gaza saw a long-range rocket launched. Israeli police said it landed in the sea off Tel Aviv.
Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who at one point was rushed to a reinforced room because of rocket attacks, has warned that his country is prepared to extend its operation against Hamas, underlining fears of a repeat of the ground incursion four years ago in which hundreds were killed.
In the current round of fighting, civilian casualties have been relatively low and the Israeli strikes seem to be more surgical. But in other ways, the latest hostilities are reminiscent of the first days of that three-week offensive against Hamas.
Israel also caught Hamas off guard then with a barrage of missile strikes and threatened to follow up with a ground offensive.
Since then, Israel has improved its missile defense systems, but it is facing a more heavily armed Hamas.
Israel estimates the militants have 12,000 rockets, including more sophisticated weapons from Iran and from Libyan stockpiles plundered after the fall of Moammar Gadhafi’s regime there last year.
Foreign Secretary William Hague yesterday urged both Israel and the Palestinians to make efforts to halt the violence in Gaza, but made clear he believes Hamas bears the greatest responsibility for the current crisis, as well as the ability to bring it most swiftly to an end.
Mr Hague said he had spoken to the Egyptian foreign minister to urge him to use his country’s influence to try to negotiate a ‘meaningful’ ceasefire.
Iraq’s representative to the Arab League, Qais al-Azzawy, said Arab states should use oil as a weapon to put pressure on the US and Israel over the attacks on Gaza.
The United States has asked countries that have contact with Hamas to urge the Islamist movement to stop its recent rocket attacks from Gaza, a White House adviser said.
‘We’ve … urged those that have a degree of influence with Hamas, such as Turkey and Egypt and some of our European partners, to use that influence to urge Hamas to de-escalate,’ Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser, said in a conference call with reporters.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in an interview with Voice of America: ‘I understand the reasons Israel is doing what they’re doing. They’ve been the target of missiles coming in from Gaza … .’
Daniel Taub, the Israeli ambassador to the UK, said Hamas needed to accept ‘some basic ground rules’, which meant acknowledging the right of Israel to exist and renouncing violence.
Speaking on ITV’s Daybreak, he said: ‘It is hard to think of Israel as a thug because really what characterises Israel’s behaviour over the last ten years is astonishing restraint.
‘It is hard to think of any country where one million people, a seventh of the population, would sit, repeatedly forced to go into bomb shelters, repeatedly forced for their kids not to go to school, because you have Hamas firing hundreds and hundreds of missiles.’
He added: ‘Ideally what we want to see is a peace treaty. That’s why we have been trying to deal with the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, where we have been saying ‘come to the negotiating table’.
‘Unfortunately in Hamas in the Gaza Strip we have a group that is hell-bent on the destruction of Israel.’
VIDEO: Explosions rock Gaza. Israeli solders deployed. Compo
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