Gaza Strikes Rage On As Diplomacy Falters
The Israeli military has continued its offensive in Gaza, targeting a major mosque and a university, as diplomatic solution appears more remote after Israel announced that it would not attend the talks set in Cairo.
Bombardments continue across the Palestinian territory including the southern district of Rafah on Saturday afternoon, Al Jazeera’s Imtiaz Tyab, reporting from Gaza, said.
Gaza health ministry officials reported that at least 1,655 Palestinians had been killed in the military operation as of Saturday, and our correspondent said the death toll could rise further.
“We have seen a lot of fighting there with over 120 people killed in a 24-hour period, and we have on good authority that that number is much higher, but the reason it has not been updated is that nobody could get into Rafah,” he said.
Among those who were killed 343 are children, 86 are women and 58 are elderly men. There were also 63 Israeli soldiers killed as well as three civilians in the Israeli side.
As news of mounting Palestinian casualties mount, an Israeli official told the AFP news agency that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will not send his representatiatives to the truce negotiations in Egypt.
“Hamas is not interested in an accommodation,” the official said, accusing the group of misleading international mediators.
A Palestinian delegation including Hamas officials was due to arrive later on Saturday in Cairo for the talks, although Al Jazeera’s Dalia Hatuqa, who is reporting from the West Bank, said that at least three representatives of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad group have been barred from entering Egypt through the Rafah crossing.
‘No red lines’
On Saturday, Israeli aircraft struck a large part of the Islamic University in Gaza City and the Imam Shafi mosque, which can accommodate as many as 3,000 people.
At the Islamic University, glass from broken windows and notebooks belonging to some of the thousands of students were scattered around the premises. No casualties were reported in the strike.
“The university is now in complete ruins,” Al Jazeera’s Imtiaz Tyab, reporting from the scene just two hours after the bombardment, said.
The Israeli army said it targeted a “weapon development” centre in the university.
In a twitter post, the military said it struck 200 “terror targets” in 24 hours.
One of Gaza City’s largest mosques, Shifa mosque, was also badly damaged by an Israeli strike.
“I spoke to the people who were running this mosque. It took them years to raise money to build it, and within seconds it was just reduced to just rubble,” our correspondent said.
“Over the past several days, it’s becoming very clear that there are no red lines,” he said. “At least six hospitals have been targeted, and we know that UN schools where people were sheltering, have been targeted.”
Israeli forces on Saturday sealed off the eastern Rafah area, and warned that cars on the streets would be considered potential targets, Al Jazeera’s Charles Stratford, reporting from southern Gaza, said.
An Egyptian-brokered ceasefire broke down within hours on Friday, with Israel and Hamas trading blame.
The Israeli army said it believed that Second Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, 23, was captured by Hamas in an ambush about an hour after an internationally brokered ceasefire took effect on Friday morning.
Hamas, meanwhile, said Israeli troops used the truce deal to storm into Rafah and kill scores of people on Friday.
Its military wing on Saturday denied any knowledge about the fate of the missing soldier.
In Cairo, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi said the truce plan Egypt proposed last month provided a “real chance” to end the Gaza conflict, stressing the need for its speedy implementation.
“Time is decisive, we have to take advantage of it quickly to douse the fire in the [Gaza] Strip… and to stop the bloodshed of Palestinians,” he said.
The Cairo-proposed plan was backed by Israel, Arab governments, the US and the UN, but brushed off by Hamas.
The Palestinian group said any peace proposal must include a demand for Israel to end the blockade on Gaza, imposed since eight years.