World Bulletin/News Desk
Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal called on Wednesday for a temporary truce to allow humanitarian relief into Gaza, but said his group would keep fighting against an Israeli offensive and would not agree to a more lasting ceasefire without full negotiation of terms.
"We are very interested to have a humanitarian truce as we did last Thursday. We need the calm for a few hours to evacuate the wounded and assist in the relief... This means a real truce backed by a real relief programme offered to the people of Gaza," he said at a news conference in Qatar.
The leader of the group, which controls Gaza, asked for the international community to help bring medicine, fuel and other supplies into the territory.
However, he said that any more permanent ceasefire could only come about after Israel ended its siege, and could only be implemented after it had been fully negotiated.
"Everyone wanted us to accept a ceasefire and then negotiate for our rights, we reject this and we reject it again today," he said.
He said that despite efforts to broker a more lasting ceasefire, there had been no breakthrough.
Gaza fighting raged on Wednesday, displacing thousands more Palestinians in the battered territory.
In a blow to Israel's economy and image, American aviation authorities extended a ban on U.S. flights to Tel Aviv for a second day, spooked by rocket salvoes out of the Gaza Strip, with many other global airlines also avoiding the Jewish state.
Adding to the pressure on Israel, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said there was "a strong possibility" that it was committing war crimes in Gaza, where 687 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have died in the fighting.
Israel launched its offensive on July 8 claiming to halt rocket salvoes by Hamas and its allies, which have struggled under an Israeli-Egyptian economic blockade on Gaza and angered by a crackdown on their supporters in the nearby occupied West Bank.
"We are meeting resistance around the tunnels ... they are constantly trying to attack us around and in the tunnels. That is the trend," Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner said on Wednesday.
MILITARY LOSSES RISE
Israel announced that three of its soldiers were killed by explosive devices on Wednesday, lifting the army death toll to 32. Three civilians have also died in rocket attacks out of Gaza, including a Thai labourer hit on Wednesday.
The military says one of its soldiers is also missing and believes he might be dead. Hamas says it has captured him, but has not released a picture of him in their hands.
Already hurt by mass tourist cancellations, Israel faced increased economic pressure after the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) took the rare step on Tuesday of banning flights to Tel Aviv, renewing the order on Wednesday.
Many other foreign carriers, on heightened alert after a Malaysian airliner was shot down over a combat zone in Ukraine last week, followed suit. Israeli carriers continued to operate.
The Tel Aviv stock exchange and Shekel were flat, with traders showing little concern about the flight stoppages.
Clouds of black smoke hung over Gaza, some 65 km (40 miles) south of Ben Gurion, with the regular thud of artillery and tank shells filling the air, sending thousands of civilians fleeing from the town of Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip.
"This is not war, this is annihilation," said 17-year-old Hamed Ayman. "I once dreamt of becoming a doctor. Today I am homeless. They should watch out for what I could become next."
Palestinian medics said two worshippers were killed and 30 wounded in an attack on a mosque in the heart of the densely populated Zeitoun neighbourhood in eastern Gaza City.
In southern Abassan and Khuzaa villages, residents said they were besieged by Israeli snipers who wounded two Palestinians as they tried to emerge from hiding with white flags in hand.
The Israeli army also seized Wafa hospital in eastern Gaza, saying it had been used to shelter Hamas fighters - a regular complaint from the military. Patients were removed ahead of time after receiving warnings of the pending assault.
Hamas wants its conditions to be met in full before any end to the conflict.
These demands include the release of hundreds of Hamas supporters recently arrested in the nearby West Bank and an end to the Egyptian-Israeli blockade of Gaza, which has stymied the economy and made it near impossible for anyone to travel abroad.
The war is extracting a heavy toll on impoverished Gaza, with Palestinian officials saying that at least 475 houses had been totally destroyed by Israeli fire and 2,644 partially damaged. Some 46 schools, 56 mosques and seven hospitals had also suffered varying degrees of destruction.
"There seems to be a strong possibility that international humanitarian law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes," the U.N.'s Pillay told an emergency session at the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva.
Last Mod: 23 Temmuz 2014, 22:50