Israel vows no letup as Gaza toll tops 125

By Sara Hussein ,AFP

GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories — Israel pounded Gaza for a fifth day Saturday with air strikes and artillery, killing 22 Palestinians as Hamas defiantly kept up its rocket fire into the Jewish state. Both sides brushed off international calls for a truce and Israel kept up its buildup of troops and armor on the Gaza border in preparation for a possible ground invasion. Saturday’s strikes, which Gaza emergency services said hit a mosque and a centre for the disabled among other targets, brought the death toll since the Tuesday start of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge to 127. The Israeli army said the mosque housed an arms cache. It said that over the same period 530 rockets hit Israel, nine of them on Saturday. U.S. President Barack Obama called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday and Washington offered to use its influence in the Middle East to bring a return to calm. But speaking at a news conference in Tel Aviv on Friday, Netanyahu said he would not end the military campaign until he achieved his goal of stopping the Hamas fire. “No international pressure will prevent us from striking, with all force, against the terrorist organization which calls for our destruction,” he said.

“No terrorist target in Gaza is immune.” The latest border flare-up — the deadliest since November 2012 — can be traced to last month’s kidnap and murder of three young Israelis in the occupied West Bank and the brutal revenge killing of a Palestinian teenager by Jewish extremists. Israel responded with a major crackdown on Hamas, even though the Islamist group declined to confirm or deny its involvement, while Gaza militants hit back with intensified rocket fire. Despite international concern, truce efforts have been unsuccessful, according to Egypt, which has been key in mediating previous ceasefires between Hamas and Israel. “Egypt has communicated with all sides to halt violence against civilians and called on them to continue with the truce agreement signed in November 2012,” the foreign ministry said. “Unfortunately, these efforts … have met with stubbornness.” Former British premier Tony Blair, the envoy for the so-called Quartet of Middle East diplomatic players, flew into Cairo on Saturday for talks on ending the violence. Ismail Haniya, Gaza’s former premier and the most senior Hamas official in the coastal enclave, ruled out any halt to hostilities. “(Israel) is the one that started this aggression and it must stop, because we are (simply) defending ourselves,” he said.