Gaza City (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) – Fresh Israeli bombardments killed five people in Gaza Sunday, hiking the death toll from the assault to over 350, as diplomatic efforts to end the conflict picked up with UN chief Ban Ki-moon due in the region.
As Israel pressed its air, sea & ground offensive against the besieged coastal territory, Hamas refused to yield, continuing assaults & reiterating its demands for any ceasefire to take place.
Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal was to meet Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in Qatar to discuss an Egyptian-proposed truce on Sunday, & the movement said it had received an invite to Cairo for ceasefire talks.
p>On day 13 of the bloodiest Gaza conflict in several years, early morning Israeli strikes in the southern city of Rafah killed five men, medics said, raising the total death toll to 348 Palestinians.
Five Israelis have been killed, including two soldiers in a Saturday commando-style raid inside Israeli territory by Hamas militants.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon departed New York on Saturday & was due in the region on Sunday to bolster intense diplomatic efforts aimed at ending the bloodshed, which has included a high civilian toll.
Gazans mourn victims of strikes that killed childr …
Israel says its operation aims to stamp out militant cross-border rocket fire, & violence has intensified since it launched a ground operation in Gaza on Thursday.
Among some 47 Palestinians killed Saturday – one of the bloodiest days of the conflict – were two six-year-olds & a toddler, emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said.
The increasing number of children killed in the conflict is causing a growing outcry, with a joint statement from NGOs War Child & Defence for Children International saying more children had been killed than militants.
Figures provided by the UN children's agency, UNICEF, indicate 73 of the victims were under the age of 18.
– Civilian casualties –
Israeli forces’ flares light up the night sky in the northern Gaza Strip, early Saturday, July 19, 2 …
"Children should be protected from the violence, & they should not be the victims of a conflict for which they have no responsibility," UNICEF's Catherine Weibel told AFP.
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu absolved Israel of all responsibility Saturday for civilian casualties, laying the blame squarely on the shoulders of Hamas.
A statement from Netanyahu's office cited him as telling Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in a phone call that Hamas was "using innocent civilians as human shields for its terrorist activities; it is responsible if civilians are inadvertently hit."
The UN's Palestinian refugee agency, UNRWA, said earlier in the week it found 20 rockets stored in one of its schools in Gaza, condemning the "group or groups" involved.
UNRWA has opened 49 of its schools to shelter those fleeing the most heavily-bombarded areas.
Israeli army video claims to show tunnels from Gaz …
So far, more than 60,000 Gazans have sought sanctuary at UN institutions, the agency said.
As Ban headed for the region to assist Israelis & Palestinians "end the violence & find a way forward", Hamas said it had received an invitation to Cairo to discuss a ceasefire proposed by Egypt.
– Hamas invited to Cairo –
Hamas "received an invitation, through mediators, for a delegation headed by Khaled Meshaal to visit Cairo & discuss the Egyptian initiative," it said in a statement.
It said the Islamist movement's "response was that its position on the initiative is known, yet it is at the same time ready to cooperate with a move by any party that will achieve the specific Palestinian demands."
Hamas earlier in the week rejected an Egyptian proposal for a truce – which was accepted by Israel – saying that it had not been consulted & demanded a full settlement before it ceased firing.
An Egyptian foreign ministry official said he could not confirm or deny the new invitation.
Hamas relations with Egypt have hit a low since Cairo's military regime took power last July, ousting Hamas ally the Muslim Brotherhood.
Turkey & Qatar, where Meshaal is based, are more sympathetic to the movement.
Abbas & Meshaal will meet in Qatar Sunday to discuss the Egyptian-proposed truce, an official close to Abbas said.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum told AFP his movement had given "the demands of the resistance to all the parties concerned, including Qatar, Turkey & the Arab League" as well as Abbas & Egypt.
The demands included an end of the "war on the Gaza Strip," a complete lift of the siege on it, opening the Rafah crossing with Egypt, freedom of movement in the border areas, cancelling the buffer zone & expanding the freedom to fish 12 nautical miles from shore.
In addition, Hamas demanded the release of its members who had been freed in a 2011 deal & recently re-arrested in an Israeli crackdown on the West Bank.
Politics & GovernmentUnrest, Conflicts & WarKhaled MeshaalMahmud AbbasHamasIsrael