Monday, 19 November 2012

Death and hope: Day 6 dawns

Letter from Jerusalem: All eyes are on Cairo to forestall Israeli invasion


I awoke early in Jerusalem to a rare few minutes of calm. The attacks on Gaza continued throughout last night, bringing the number of people killed to more than 90. However, no rockets were fired from Gaza during the night and today, at first, the Israeli air strikes appeared to have stopped.

Then at 6.26am, it all started up again. The haunting refrain of “Code Red, Code Red” broke through the morning radio news programme as sirens began wailing and Hamas rockets started raining down on Israel’s southern towns. One hit a school in Ashkelon, where children had already been sent home.

In Gaza, Israeli warplanes and artillery resumed their attacks on what they said were terrorist targets — including a sports stadium used to launch rockets —but also hitting dozens of innocent civilians.

Twenty Palestinians were reported killed by noon, the death toll on the sixth day of fighting looking likely to surpass the 29 killed yesterday, who included five women and four children from one family in Gaza City.

The fighting appeared to intensify in proportion to rumours of an impending ceasefire. Yesterday I saw reservists and columns of armoured vehicles streaming into the closed military zone declared by Israel east of Gaza as a staging post for 30,000 troops mobilised for its planned ground invasion.

Now all eyes are on Cairo, where United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon was expected today to join Egypt’s president Mohammed Mursi in pressuring Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal to accept a ceasefire and forestall an Israeli invasion that will inevitably lead to hundreds more Palestinian deaths.

A massive majority of Israelis support Operation Pillar of Defence so far, but there is a growing groundswell of opinion among former generals as well as opposition critics, urging prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to invade. The final decision on that, it seems, rests with Hamas.

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