Wednesday

19th Dec 2018

Gaza fighting continues as diplomatic efforts falter

The Israeli incursion into the Gaza Strip continued on Tuesday (6 January), reaching Gaza city, despite international calls for ceasefire and multiplying diplomatic efforts in the region.

Israeli troops clashed with Palestinian militants on the edge of the densely populated Gaza City, home to around 1.4 million people, on Monday night, with fighting still raging in the city in the early hours of Tuesday, news agencies report.

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Israeli tanks also entered Khan Yunis, the largest city in southern Gaza.

The third night of Israel's ground assault - the eleventh day of the war on Gaza - brings the death toll on the Palestinian side to around 550 people, including around 100 children, according to emergency services figures reported by the AFP news agency.

More than 2,500 have been wounded.

For its part, Hamas has continued its rocket fire on Israel. Five Israeli civilians and one soldier have been killed so far by Hamas militants, while three Israeli soldiers died and 24 were wounded in a "friendly fire" incident in northern Gaza.

Meanwhile, international calls for a truce have continued, with the US State Department saying it was seeking a unlimited tripartite ceasefire focussing on Hamas - including a halt to rocket firing into Israel, a re-opening of crossings on the border and addressing the issue of tunnels used for smuggling via Egypt - and a high-level EU delegation meeting both Israeli and Palestinian politicians on Monday.

But Czech foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg – whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency – said the EU's role in the conflict would be limited to trying to mediate a solution at this stage, rather than looking into the content of a possible truce proposal.

"We didn't have a specific plan for the ceasefire because the ceasefire must be concluded by the parties. We can help it, mediate, assist a solution, but it is not up to us to propose the conditions of the ceasefire," which "should be established as soon as possible," Mr Schwarzenberg said, the Jerusalem Post reports.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy also met both Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Jerusalem and Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas in Ramallah on Monday, and expressed his "deep concern" at the situation.

He called the Hamas rocket attacks on Israel "irresponsible and unforgivable," while calling on Israel to "take the risk of peace."

Following his statement that Hamas bore "a heavy responsibility for the suffering of the Palestinians in Gaza," Mr Sarkozy was accused by Hamas of being "totally biased."

Israel rejects immediate ceasefire

Despite the appeals, Israel rejected the possibility of an immediate ceasefire with foreign minister Tzipi Livni saying: "Hamas targets Israel whenever it likes and Israel shows restraint."

"This is no longer going to be the equation in this region. When Israel is being targeted, Israel is going to retaliate."

Mr Olmert also later told the French president that Israel's invasion would continue as long as Hamas could fire rockets at Israel.

"The results of the operation must be ... that Hamas must not only stop firing, but must no longer be able to fire," he was quoted as saying by AFP.

Meanwhile, an official from Mr Olmert's office told the Jerusalem Post that Tel Aviv was aware the war would end "one day," while stressing the international community's role in the process.

"Ultimately, we understand that on the day this is over, regional and international actors will have an important role to play in maintaining the quiet, and specifically in preventing the re-arming of Hamas," the official said.

EU aviation agreement with Morocco in legal hot water

The European Commission is struggling to respond to questions on how it can include the disputed territory of the Western Sahara into its aviation agreement with Morocco - following a recent order from the General Court of the European Union.

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