ISRAEL and Hamas appeared no closer to a ceasefire last night as Egyptian officials continued efforts to broker a deal that would halt the latest round of violence in the region.
Intensive Israeli airstrikes in Gaza continued yesterday, bringing the death count in enclave close to the 100 mark.
However, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal vowed to reject Israeli conditions as part of any ceasefire, while Israel said a decision on whether to launch a ground invasion would be taken in the next couple of days.
Rocket attacks from Gaza, which have so far killed three Israelis, also continued.
Hamas fired 75 rockets into Israel yesterday, 20 of which were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome protection defence system, officials said.
One missile hit an empty school in the coastal town of Ashkelon.
Asked about the prospects for a ceasefire, Egyptian prime minister Hisham Kandil told reporters: “The nature of these kind of negotiations is it is very hard to foresee what will happen.”
Despite meetings in Cairo between Mr Meshaal and Egyptian intelligence chiefs, a day after an Israeli envoy was in the Egyptian capital, it appeared more bloodletting lies ahead.
With Israeli troops on standby, Israeli vice-premier Silvan Shalom said yesterday that Israel will decide whether or not to mount a ground operation during the next day or two.
Foreign ministry spokesman Yuval Palmor added: “’We are seeking the cessation of all rocket fire, not just for now but for a very long period.
“This is why the military is disabling Hamas’s rocket capabilities and we will see what we can achieve through diplomatic channels.”
The latest conflict began last Wednesday with the assassination of Hamas military chief Ahmed Jabari.
The lack of a ceasefire has raised the spectre of another devastating Israeli incursion into Gaza. Four years ago that led to the death of 1,400 Palestinians and brought international condemnation, but only a temporary respite in rocket fire.
Yesterday, Hamas leader Mr Meshaal told reporters: “There are Egyptian and Qatari efforts. We meet every day but we will not accept any Israeli condition. If they are asking for a ceasefire, then they should stop the fire and the attacks”.
Mr Meshaal said that it was the Israelis, not Hamas, who first asked for the ceasefire.
He added that “the brothers in Gaza told me that they want to achieve our legitimate demands including an end to Israeli assassinations” and a lifting of Israel’s blockade of the coastal enclave, imposed after Hamas won Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006.
In a show of solidarity with Gazans, Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu and a delegation of Arab foreign ministers are expected in the Strip today.
However, the fighting continued unabated yesterday as Israeli warplanes intensified their bombardments in the Gaza Strip.
The Palestinian death toll rose to 95, with more than 600 wounded and 24 fatalities yesterday alone, according to reports.
In Gaza City’s Zaitoun neighbourhood, a missile struck a three-storey home, killing three adults and a two-year-old, and wounding 42 people.
Residents said that Israel first launched a warning strike at 2am, prompting many to flee. A few minutes later came the heavy bombardment.
Residents said Ahmed Kitati, 38, who had rushed out to help people to safety, was killed by a falling cinderblock, leaving behind a pregnant wife, five young daughters and a son.
His brother, Jawad, said he plucked the lifeless body of the two-year-old from the street and carried it to an ambulance.
A relative, Haitham Abu Zour, woke up to the sound of the warning strike and hid in a stairwell. He emerged to find his wife dead and his two infant children buried beneath the debris, but safe.
Elsewhere yesterday, Israeli aircraft bombarded the remains of the former national security compound in Gaza City. Shrapnel killed a child and wounded other people nearby, Gaza health officials said.
Israeli planes also bombed a building housing press offices for the second successive day, with the army saying Islamic Jihad operatives were inside and using journalists as human shield. Islamic Jihad sent a text message that Ramez Harb, a prominent fighter, was killed in the strike.