Civilian death toll climbs in Israel-Gaza crisis as world leaders urge ceasefire
More Palestinian civilians were caught in the line of fire Monday as Israel expanded the scope of its campaign in the Gaza Strip, hitting densely packed areas of the territory with airstrikes.
Israel began targeting the Gaza homes of Hamas activists and suspected military commanders over the weekend, bolstering its efforts to stop Hamas rocket fire on the state. The new approach, however, has led to an increased number of civilian casualties as airstrikes devastate more crowded areas of Gaza.
At least 111 Palestinians have been killed since the Israeli campaign began six days ago. According to a Gaza health official, more than 24 of those individuals were civilians killed in the last 24 hours.
In Israel, Hamas rocket fire has killed three civilians and wounded dozens of others. An Israeli missile defence system called the “Iron Dome” has shot down hundreds of rockets, the majority of the missiles aimed at the southern part of the country, Israel’s military said.
International observers continue to call for a ceasefire, a solution that Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi has been attempting to broker.
Both sides, however, have attached terms to a potential truce and appear to be unwavering in their demands.
In an interview from Jerusalem, CTV's Janis Mackey Frayer noted that both Israel and Hamas would like reassurance that they will not be on the receiving end of rocket fire.
“There certainly isn’t a backing off on either side,” she told Canada AM. “Israel is saying it will not talk about a ceasefire until the rockets stop, whereas Hamas is also holding to its line, saying that the missiles can’t stop from just one side.”
Hamas has also asked that Israel lift its blockade on the territory and cease targeted killings of the group’s leaders and military commanders. So far, the requests have been rejected.
A senior Egyptian official said Monday that by the end of the day mediators hoped to have a clearer idea of whether a ceasefire will be possible.
In an interview with the Associated Press, the official said Egypt wants to stop the fighting and “find a direct way to lift the siege of Gaza.”
Turkey and Qatar are assisting with the negotiations.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon arrived in Cairo Monday to participate in the ceasefire efforts.
Defence Minister Peter MacKay said Monday Canada supports international efforts to broker a ceasefire, and reiterated that the federal government supports Israel’s right to defend itself against rocket fire from Gaza.
“We’ve stated repeatedly that Israel not only has a right to exist, they have a right to defend themselves. That includes their civilian population, which is what they have been doing and trying to stop the source of the attacks,” MacKay told CTV’s Power Play.
“One has to consider that this has been going on for years, that thousands of rockets have been coming across their border, predominantly from Gaza.”
In Brussels, officials with the European Union have also weighed in on the conflict.
Speaking to a gathering of foreign and defence ministers Monday, EU policy chief Catherine Ashton called for an end to rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel. Meanwhile, Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt urged an immediate ceasefire, and a subsequent review of wider issues between Israel and Gaza.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama have stated publicly that Israel has the right to defend itself against Hamas-launched missiles. But it’s unclear how far that support will extend as Israel considers a ground incursion into Gaza.
If he chooses to put troops on the ground, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu risks increasing military and civilian casualties and losing outside support, said Mackey Frayer.
“Four years ago, when there was a ground offensive, a ceasefire followed and there was the promise that calm would prevail on both sides,” she noted. “Effectively what it yielded was an opportunity for militants in the Gaza Strip to restock their arsenals with stronger missiles.”
In the latest round of violence, Hamas fired at least 95 rockets into Israel on Monday. Reports indicate one of those missiles hit an empty school.
Meanwhile, Israel’s Iron Dome system managed to intercept 29 Hamas-launched rockets on Monday, according to a police spokesperson.
Those rockets landed in the open areas of Asheklon, Ashdod and Seersheva, he said.
With files from The Associated Press