Israel strike kills Gaza family as Egypt readies new talks

Jennie Matthew, Sakher Abu El Oun
Smoke rises following an Israeli air strike on a Palestinian home in Gaza City on August 23, 2014
View photos
Smoke rises following an Israeli air strike on a Palestinian home in Gaza City on August 23, 2014 (AFP Photo/Thomas Coex)

Gaza City (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) - Israel kept up the pressure on Hamas in Gaza on Saturday, carrying out multiple air strikes that killed seven Palestinians, three of them children, as Egypt prepared to convene new truce talks.

Since a previous round of frantic Egyptian diplomacy collapsed, shattering nine days of calm, 84 Palestinians and a four-year-old Israeli boy have died as a result of the violence.

"Egypt is going to invite delegates to return to the negotiating table to consider a long-term truce," Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said after talks with Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

"What interests us now is putting a stop to the bloodshed," Abbas said. "As soon as a ceasefire goes into effect, the two sides can sit down and discuss their demands."

Abbas's meeting with Sisi came after he held two rounds of talks in Qatar on Thursday and Friday with exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, whose Islamist movement is the de facto ruler of Gaza.

Israel has vowed no let-up until it can guarantee the safety of its civilians, while Hamas insists that Israel must end its eight-year blockade of the territory as part of any truce.

At least 2,100 Palestinians and 68 people on the Israeli side, all but four of them soldiers, have been killed since July 8. The UN says 70 percent of the Palestinians who have died were civilians.

Israel said it had carried out 35 air strikes over the Gaza Strip on Saturday and that around 30 rockets and mortar rounds hit Israel, with another three intercepted.

The military sent text messages, voice mails and leaflets warning Palestinians to stay away from "terrorists" and that "every house from which militant activity is carried out, will be targeted."

Witnesses and Palestinian officials said two mosques were destroyed in the Khan Yunis area of southern Gaza, while a third, in the Shati refugee camp, which had already been damaged, was bombed again.

The deadliest air strike levelled a home in Al-Zawayda in central Gaza, killing a couple, their sons aged three and four, and a 45-year-old aunt, medics said.

Distraught mourners gathered at the cemetery, clawing at the dry soil and using their bare hands to fill in the graves after laying marble slabs over the bodies in the burning morning sun.

Neighbours said the family house had been bombed earlier in the conflict and that the family had returned to camp out in the ruins, when it was hit overnight by an F16.

A 64-year-old Palestinian man and a 12-year-old boy were killed in separate air strikes, south of Gaza City and in the town of Deir al-Balah, the emergency services said.

Palestinian security officials and witnesses said six powerful explosions that rang out across Gaza City were an Israel air strike on an Islamic Jihad training camp in northern Gaza.

The intensified air strikes came after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed harsh retribution for the killing of a four-year-old boy at his home in kibbutz Nahal Oz on Friday.

- Fire from near school -

Israel said militants fired the deadly mortar round from next to a school in the Zeitun neighbourhood of Gaza City, which it called a "shelter maintained by Hamas authority", correcting an earlier statement in which it had stated it was an UN-operated facility.

One Israeli child and at least 480 Palestinian children have been killed since the conflict began, UNICEF said, in the deadliest fighting since the 2005 end of the second intifada.

A Hamas official said Saturday the movement had signed a proposal for the Palestinians to apply to join the International Criminal Court at which legal action could be taken against Israel.

Since the July 8 outbreak of the latest conflict in and around Gaza, Israel and Hamas have accused each other of war crimes. Joining the ICC would also expose Palestinian factions to possible prosecution.

On Friday, Hamas executed 18 people in Gaza City it accused of collaborating with Israel, a day after three of its top commanders were assassinated in Israeli air strikes.

Britain, France and Germany have advanced key points of a new UN Security Council resolution calling for an immediate and sustainable ceasefire, and the lifting of Israel's blockade.

Diplomats said the text was aimed at advancing efforts to reach agreement within the 15-member council after a draft resolution from Jordan met with resistance from Israel's US ally.

Washington has wielded its veto powers at the Security Council repeatedly in the past on behalf of Israel, although the now 46-day war has strained relations between the allies.