JERUSALEM: Israeli warplanes kept up their bombing of Gaza yesterday as Hamas rockets set sirens wailing, raising fears the conflict could spread as Washington offered help brokering a truce.
As the bloodiest battle between Israel and Hamas in 20 months escalated on its fourth day, diplomatic efforts to end the hostilities gathered pace.
US President Barack Obama phoned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to express concerns and to offer his help in resolving the crisis.
“The United States remains prepared to facilitate a cessation of hostilities, including a return to the November 2012 ceasefire agreement,” the White House said, referring to a truce which ended the last major confrontation between Israel and militants from the Islamist Hamas movement in Gaza.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon and Russian President Vladimir Putin also appealed for an end to the hostilities, as the Palestinian death toll rose over 90, among them women and children.
But neither of the warring sides appeared to have any interest in backing down.
After weeks of rising rocket fire on its south, Israel lost patience and was bent on dealing a fatal blow to Hamas, with Netanyahu reportedly saying talk of a ceasefire was “not even on the agenda”.
And Ismail Haniya, Gaza’s former prime minister and the most senior Hamas official in the enclave, also ruled out any end to hostilities, as rockets struck deep inside Israel and sirens sent people fleeing for shelter in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and even in the northern port city of Haifa.
“(Israel) is the one that started this aggression and it must stop, because we are (simply) defending ourselves,” he said on Friday.
Hamas has called for mass demonstrations against the Israeli operation, and with Muslims marking the second Friday of the holy month of Ramadan, Israeli police were gearing up for possible disturbances.
In Jerusalem, police limited access the Al-Aqsa mosque compound to men over 50.
Israeli strikes killed more than 30 Gazans on Thursday, and another six died early yesterday, hiking the overall death toll to 98, Palestinian medics said. More than 500 people have been injured.
So far, no-one in Israel has been killed, but a man in his 50s was in very serious condition after a Gaza rocket struck a petrol station in the southern port city of Ashdod early Friday, causing a huge explosion and major fire, medics said. — AFP