US warns Israel against invasion of Gaza; Egypt unveils truce plan

July 15, 2014 - 3:48:41 am
Palestinian protesters light candles to demonstrate against the ongoing Israeli air strikes in Gaza Strip, in Nablus, yesterday.

GAZA CITY: Washington warned its Israeli ally against a ground invasion of Gaza, as the death toll from Israel’s air campaign topped that of a 2012 assault and Cairo unveiled a truce plan yesterday.

The announcement by Egypt, a mediator in past conflicts between Israel and the Palestinians, of a ceasefire to take effect at 0600 GMT today came on the eve of a visit by US Secretary of State John Kerry in which he was expected to throw his weight behind peace efforts. There was no immediate reaction from Israel.

The White House stopped short of criticising Israel over the civilian casualty toll from its devastating week-long air and artillery bombardment of the densely populated Palestinian enclave that has drawn flak from the United Nations and rights watchdogs.

It said the Israeli government had the “right” and “responsibility” to defend its citizens against rocket attacks by Hamas from its Gaza stronghold.

But it said even more civilians would be put at risk were Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to heed hardliners in his governing coalition and send in troops and armour. “Nobody wants to see a ground invasion because that would put more civilians at risk,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

It was the first time that the White House has specifically warned in a public forum against an Israeli invasion of Gaza, although other US officials, including Kerry, have previously said Washington would not like to see such a step.

Egypt proposed that a ceasefire be followed by talks on easing the flow of goods into Gaza, which has long been heavily restricted by Israel. A Hamas official said: “There are efforts and communications on the issue of a truce deal but until now there is nothing final.” Hamas has said that it wants to see Gaza’s Rafah border crossing with Egypt — the only one not controlled by Israel — opened to the flow of goods.

In a bid to add Washington’s weight to truce efforts, Kerry is to fly into Cairo today, Egyptian state media reported. He is then expected to fly on to Qatar.

Palestinian militants resumed rocket attacks on Tel Aviv and Israel kept up its air and naval bombardments of the Gaza Strip. The military said it had shot down a drone from Gaza, the first reported deployment of an unmanned aircraft by Palestinian militants and a possible step up in the sophistication of their arsenal, although it was not clear whether it was armed.

With Israel’s punishing air campaign in its seventh day, the death toll in Gaza hit 184. Fourteen people were killed yesterday. So far, no Israelis have been killed. Four have been seriously wounded.