JERUSALEM, (AFP) – Fighting raged on both sides of Gaza’s borders Wednesday despite intensified efforts across the region to thrash out a truce to end a week of violence that has cost 136 Palestinian and five Israeli lives.
Diplomatic efforts have involved US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, UN chief Ban Ki-moon and Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi but a deal to end Israel’s offensive on rocket-firing militants in the Gaza Strip remains elusive.
The Israeli military said that during the night it had targeted more than 100 sites across the Gaza Strip, about half of them underground rocket launchers, as well as the internal security ministry and a police compound.
An army spokesman told AFP that since midnight four rockets fired from Gaza had hit southern Israel and a further two were intercepted midair.
The army confirmed its first fatality from rocket attacks on Tuesday, and a civilian contractor working for the defence ministry was also killed, as a longer-range missile landed near Jerusalem and one hit a building in metropolitan Tel Aviv.
Israel’s offensive, launched on November 14 with the targeted killing of a Hamas military chief, claimed the lives of 26 more Palestinians Tuesday and saw saw an air strike on an eight storey building housing AFP’s Gaza City offices, causing no injuries.
Clinton, who flew in Tuesday night for talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Clinton, said that Washington’s commitment to Israeli security was “rock solid and unwavering.”
But she also stressed that this “is why we believe it is essential to de-escalate the situation” in the Palestinian territory.
And she indicated a truce announcement may not emerge until after she completes visits to the West Bank capital of Ramallah and Cairo for talks with Egypt’s President Morsi.
“In these days ahead, the United States will work with our partners here in Israel and across the region for an outcome that bolsters security for the peace of Israel, improves conditions for the people of Gaza and moves toward a comprehensive peace for all people of the region,” said Clinton.
Militant sources in Gaza had initially said a deal could be announced in Cairo on Tuesday night following days of Egyptian-brokered negotiations between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers.
But Hamas officials said the indirect negotiations were ongoing, as an Egyptian official told AFP in Cairo that “the truce announcement is not expected tonight because we are still waiting for a response” from the Jewish state.
An Israeli diplomatic source told AFP that negotiations were ongoing.
“We are working very hard using our diplomatic channels. We are working continuously. But I cannot give you an estimated time of arrival,” at such an agreement, he said.
As they held late night talks in Jerusalem, Netanyahu told Clinton he was ready to agree to a “long-term solution” as long as the rocket attacks from Gaza stopped.
“If there’s a possibility of achieving a long-term solution for this problem by diplomatic means, we prefer it. But if not, I’m sure you understand that Israel will have to take every action necessary to defend its people,” he said.
A senior Hamas official told AFP in Cairo that a key sticking point was the timing of when Israel would begin easing its six-year blockade of Gaza.
“A compromise solution is for there to be agreement on lifting the siege, and that it would be implemented later at a specified time,” he said.
The strike on the building housing AFP’s Gaza City office came Tuesday night but caused no injuries.
AFP photographer Mahmud Hams, who was in the fourth-floor office at the time said at least three rockets appeared to have hit the building.
“I grabbed my cameras and left the office with the fixer and there was smoke in the hallways. We ran out of the building,” he said, indicating that smoke and a fire appeared to be coming from an office on one of the upper floors.
The Israeli military confirmed targeting the eight-storey building in Gaza City’s Rimal neighbourhood.
“We attacked the seventh storey of the building. From what we understand, Hamas had a military intelligence operations room there,” an army spokesman said.
“Warning to reporters in Gaza: Stay away from Hamas operatives and facilities. Hamas, a terrorist group, will use you as human shields,” the Israeli army’s official Twitter account said.