MOSCOW/GAZA, November 20 (RIA Novosti) – Israel carried out some 100 airstrikes on Gaza overnight as the bombardment of the Palestinian enclave entered its seventh day amid frantic negotiations to stem a rapidly rising body count.
Gaza’s health ministry said on Tuesday at least 111 people, many of them children, had been killed in the densely-populated city of 1.7 million since Israel began its airborne assault on Wednesday in response to a surge in rocket attacks from the enclave.
The Israeli military said 29 rockets had been fired from Gaza, ruled by the Hamas Islamist group, towards Israel since early Tuesday. Most were intercepted, but three landed in the town of Beersheva. A rocket - the second of the current conflict - also landed near Jerusalem, Israeli media said. No injuries were reported in either attack.
Three Israelis have been killed by rocket fire from Gaza since the start of the military campaign.
"My message is clear - all sides must halt fire immediately,” UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon said in Cairo during talks with Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby ahead of a meeting with Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi.
Mursi - a member of the Muslim Brotherhood movement that gave rise to Hamas - hinted late on Tuesday afternoon that a truce was imminent.
"The farce of Israeli aggression against the Gaza Strip will end on Tuesday," he said. "The efforts to conclude a truce between the Palestinian and Israeli sides will produce positive results in the next few hours."
Ban is also due to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later on Tuesday, before traveling to the West Bank city of Ramallah to speak to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
US officials said on Tuesday that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was heading for the region to press for a truce and would visit Israel, Egypt and the West Bank.
Israeli and Palestinian officials were also reported to be negotiating via an Egyptian mediator in Cairo on Tuesday.
The developments came as an Israeli government source told RIA Novosti on Tuesday that Israel would put off an invasion of Gaza for another 24 hours to give “diplomatic efforts a chance.” He also admitted that Israel was coming under intense “international pressure” to halt its bombing of Gaza.
Israel is demanding a complete cessation of rocket fire from Gaza before it halts its attacks on “terrorist” targets in the densely-populated city.
Tel Aviv has called up 75,000 reservists and a ground force is massed near the border with Gaza, awaiting orders to enter the enclave.
Later on Tuesday, Israeli aircraft dropped leaflets over the Gaza Strip warning residents to move away from the border with Israel.
Palestinians fear the leaflets are a prelude to an Israeli ground invasion or an intensified aerial bombardment in retaliation for increased rocket fire from Gaza or Hamas intransigence at ceasefire talks.
The Arabic-language leaflets call on residents to leave their homes “for the sake of their own safety” and recommend the routes to use to reach the center of Gaza City from the coastal enclave’s eastern, southeastern and southern sections, which border Israel.
Ban warned that any Israeli ground invasion of Gaza would be a “dangerous escalation,” but said Israel had “legitimate concerns that must be respected in international law.”
Israel’s last invasion of Gaza, in 2008-2009, killed 1,400 Palestinians, the majority of them civilians. Thirteen Israelis died in the 22-day military operation.
A Haaretz-Dialog poll taken on Sunday indicated that 84% of the Israeli public supports the present military campaign, with 12% opposing it. But only 30% of the Israeli public would support a ground offensive in Gaza, the pollster reported.
US President Barack Obama reiterated on Sunday Washington’s insistence that Israel has the right to self-defense.
"There's no country on earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders... we are fully supportive of Israel's right to defend itself," said Obama.
But ordinary people in Gaza were scornful of Obama’s comments.
“Since when does the occupier have the right to defend itself from the occupied?” said north Gaza resident Sameh Alborai. “Many people here believe Gaza is being attacked because of the Israeli elections that are coming up. Israel has an internal conflict and, like always in these situations, they are targeting Gaza.”
Israel votes in parliamentary elections in January.
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan alleged on that Friday Israel’s attack on Gaza was a pre-election ploy aimed at drumming up support for Netanyahu’s Likud Party. On Monday, Erdogan labeled Israel a "terrorist state."
Netanyahu dismissed the accusations: “We are defending ourselves,” he said last week.
A spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, urged Israel on Tuesday to "scrupulously meet its legal obligations to distinguish at all times between civilians and combatants."
"The high commissioner reiterates her condemnation of the continuing indiscriminate attacks and targeting of civilians in Israel by militants in Gaza," the spokesman, Rupert Colville, also said.