Senior Israeli ministers decided overnight to hold off from launching a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip to give Egyptian-led truce efforts a chance to work, a senior Israeli official said Tuesday.
“A decision was taken that for the time being there is a temporary hold on the ground incursion to give diplomacy a chance to succeed,” he told AFP following a late-night session of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s inner circle, the Forum of Nine.
“They discussed both the state of the diplomacy and the military operation,” he said on condition of anonymity.
As an Egyptian ceasefire proposal appears to be emerging from indirect negotiations in Cairo between Israel and a Hamas team, a stream of top-level diplomats were expected to arrive in the region to throw their weight behind efforts to end the violence which on Tuesday entered its seventh day.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon is to meet Israeli President Shimon Peres on Tuesday evening and US officials said US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would break away from an Asia visit to visit Israel, Egypt and the West Bank.
Palestinian officials said she was expected to visit Ramallah on Wednesday morning for talks with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.
Israeli strikes kill 6 in Gaza, hiking toll to 116
Six Palestinians were killed today in a new wave of Israeli strikes on Gaza, medics said, raising the Palestinian toll from six days of bombardment to 116.
The raids ended a night of relative quiet in which no-one was killed for the first time since Israel launched its relentless aerial assault on rocket-firing militants in the enclave on November 14, Palestinian medics said.
More than 920 people have been injured in the bombing campaign.
Emergency services spokesman Adham Abu Selmiya named the latest victims as Abdel Rahman Hamed, who died in Safina just north of Gaza City, and Mohammed Badr who was killed in a strike on Deir al-Balah in central Gaza.
Earlier he said another three people died in separate strikes on the northern Gaza Strip and a fourth had been killed in an area just south of Gaza City.
Among the latest victims were 15-year-old Yahya Mohammed Awad who was hunting birds near the beach when a missile hit the northern Sudaniya area, and two men who were killed in the nearby town of Beit Lahiya: Yahya Maaruf, a farmer who was working his land, and another man called Bilal Birawi, 20.
And in Mughraqa, just south of Gaza City, another strike killed Mahmud Rizk al-Zahar, he said.
Overnight, the Israeli military said it attacked about 100 targets with a combination of aircraft, warships and artillery, one of which targeted “a financial institution used by Hamas”.
Palestinian officials confirmed that National Islamic Bank in Gaza City, which was set up by the Islamist movement that runs Gaza, was severely damaged in a raid.
Hamas officials and witnesses also told AFP that strikes hit the homes of several leaders within its armed wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades.
Among those targeted were the homes of senior Hamas military commander Raed Aatar in the southern city of Rafah, as well as that of Abu Anza, a Qassam official in Khan Yunis, also in the south, where raids also targeted Islamic Jihad offices.
Monday was the bloodiest day of the Israeli operation since it was launched on Wednesday, with 33 people killed.
During the late evening, a family of four was killed in an attack on Beit Lahiya, and two teenage brothers were killed in Rafah.
During the day, warplanes had attacked Gaza City’s Shuruq tower media centre — the second time the building has been targeted — killing a senior Islamic Jihad militant.
Islamic Jihad sources named him as Ramez Harb