WRAPUP 3-Israel, Gaza fighting rages on as Egypt seeks truce

Nidal al-Mughrabi and Allyn Fisher-Ilan
Reuters Middle East

* Child killed, 15 people injured in pre dawn raids

* Hamas spokesman defiant in televised statement

* Egypt moves to broker ceasefire; Israel threatens invasion

* Israel says if rockets, attacks stop it won't attack

GAZA/JERUSALEM, Nov 18 (Reuters) - Israel bombed Palestinian

militant targets in the Gaza Strip from air and sea for a fifth

straight day on Sunday, preparing for a possible ground invasion

though Egypt saw "some indications" of a truce ahead.

Militant rocket fire into Israel subsided during the night

but resumed in the morning with three rockets fired at the

nearby coastal city of Ashkelon, the Israeli army said.

"As of now we have struck more than 1,000 targets, so Hamas

should do the math over whether it is or isn't worth it to cease

fire," Israeli Vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon, over Twitter.

"If there is quiet in the South and no rockets and missiles

are fired at Israel's citizens nor terrorist attacks engineered

from the Gaza Strip, we will not attack."

Forty-eight Palestinians, about half of them civilians,

including 13 children, have been killed in Israel's raids,

Palestinian officials said. More than 500 rockets fired from

Gaza have hit Israel, killing three people and injuring dozens.

Israel unleashed intensive air strikes on Wednesday, killing

the commander of the Hamas Islamist group that governs Gaza and

spurns peace with the Jewish state. Israel's declared goal is to

deplete Gaza arsenals and press Hamas into stopping cross-border

rocket fire that has plagued Israeli border towns for years.

Air raids continued past midnight into Sunday, with warships

shelling from the sea. A Gaza City media building was hit,

witnesses said, wounding 6 journalists and damaging facilities

belonging to Hamas's Al-Aqsa TV as well as Britain's Sky News.

An Israeli military spokeswoman said the strike had targeted

a rooftop "transmission antenna used by Hamas to carry out

terror activity".

Two other predawn attacks on houses in the Jabalya refugee

camp killed two children and wounded 13 other people, medical

officials said.

These attacks followed a defiant statement by Hamas military

spokesman Abu Ubaida, who told a news conference: "This round of

confrontation will not be the last against the Zionist enemy and

it is only the beginning."

The masked gunman dressed in military fatigues insisted that

despite Israel's blows Hamas "is still strong enough to destroy

the enemy".

An Israeli attack on Saturday destroyed the house of a Hamas

commander near the Egyptian border.

Casualties there were averted however, because Israel had

fired non-exploding missiles at the building beforehand from a

drone, which the militant's family understood as a warning to

flee, and thus their lives were spared, witnesses said.

Israeli aircraft also bombed Hamas government buildings in

Gaza on Saturday, including the offices of Prime Minister Ismail

Haniyeh and a police headquarters.

Among those killed in air strikes on Gaza on Saturday were

at least four suspected militants riding motorcycles, and

several civilians including a 30-year-old woman.


Israel said it would keep schools in its south shut on

Sunday as a precaution to avoid casualties from rocket strikes

reaching as far as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in the past few days.

Israel's "Iron Dome" missile interceptor system destroyed in

mid-air a rocket fired by Gaza militants at Tel Aviv on

Saturday, where volleyball games on the beach front came to an

abrupt halt as air-raid sirens sounded.

Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack on Tel Aviv, the

third against the city since Wednesday. It said it had fired an

Iranian-designed Fajr-5 at the coastal metropolis, some 70 km

(43 miles) north of Gaza.

In the Israeli Mediterranean port of Ashdod, a rocket ripped

into several balconies. Police said five people were hurt.

Israel's operation has drawn Western support for what U.S.

and European leaders have called Israel's right to self-defence,

but there was also a growing number of calls from world leaders

to seek an end to the violence.

British Prime Minister David Cameron "expressed concern over

the risk of the conflict escalating further and the danger of

further civilian casualties on both sides," in a conversation

with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a spokesperson

for Cameron said.

London was "putting pressure on both sides to de-escalate,"

the spokesman said, adding that Cameron had urged Netanyahu "to

do everything possible to bring the conflict to an end."

Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser to President

Barack Obama, said the United States would like to see the

conflict resolved through "de-escalation" and diplomacy, but

also believes Israel has a right to self-defense.

Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi said in Cairo as his

security deputies sought to broker a truce with Hamas leaders,

that "there are some indications that there is a possibility of

a ceasefire soon, but we do not yet have firm guarantees."

Egypt has mediated previous ceasefire deals between Israel

and Hamas, the latest of which unravelled with recent violence.

A Palestinian official told Reuters the truce discussions

would continue in Cairo on Sunday, saying "there is hope," but

it was too early to say whether the efforts would succeed.

In Jerusalem, an Israeli official declined to comment on the

negotiations. Military commanders said Israel was prepared to

fight on to achieve a goal of halting rocket fire from Gaza,

which has plagued Israeli towns since late 2000, when failed

peace talks led to the outbreak of a Palestinian uprising.

Diplomats at the United Nations said Secretary-General Ban

Ki-moon is expected to visit Israel and Egypt in the coming week

to push for an end to the fighting.


Israel, with tanks and artillery positioned along the

frontier, said it was still weighing a ground offensive.

Israeli cabinet ministers decided on Friday to more than

double the current reserve troop quota set for the Gaza

offensive to 75,000 and around 16,000 reservists have already

been called up.

Asked by reporters whether a ground operation was possible,

Major-General Tal Russo, commander of the Israeli forces on the

Gaza frontier, said: "Definitely."

"We have a plan. ... It will take time. We need to have

patience. It won't be a day or two," he added.

A possible move into the densely populated Gaza Strip and

the risk of major casualties it brings would be a significant

gamble for Netanyahu, favoured to win a January election.

The last Gaza war, a three-week Israeli blitz and invasion

over the New Year of 2008-09, killed 1,400 Palestinians, mostly

civilians. Thirteen Israelis died in the conflict.

But the Gaza conflagration has stirred the pot of a Middle

East already boiling from two years of Arab revolution and a

civil war in Syria that threatens to spread beyond its borders.

One major change has been the election of an Islamist

government in Cairo that is allied with Hamas, potentially

narrowing Israel's manoeuvring room in confronting the

Palestinian group. Israel and Egypt made peace in 1979.

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