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Day 7: Humanitarian Crisis in Gaza Drives Hope for Ceasefire
UPDATE (11:46 AM EST):
News outlets and social media followed conflicting stories over agreement of a possible ceasefire deal between Israel and Hamas on Tuesday. The emerging picture, however, is that a deal—confirmed or not—is vital if a deepening of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza is to be averted.
"An agreement for calm has been reached. It will be declared at 1900 (GMT) and go into effect at 2200 GMT," Hamas official Ayman Taha told Reuters from Cairo, where efforts have been under way to end seven days of hostilities.
The Associated Press, however, tweeted an update saying that though a deal was close, it was not considered official:
BREAKING: Senior Hamas official says no cease-fire deal with Israel but agreement is close.— The Associated Press (@AP) November 20, 2012
Haaretz's diplomatic correspondent, Barak Ravid, added:
Israeli officials are taking now a very hardline: "there is no Israeli agreement on any draft cease fire understandings"— Barak Ravid (@BarakRavid) November 20, 2012
And Reuters tweeted:
Israeli govt spokesman tells CNN truce deal with Gaza militants not finalized, "ball still in play" bit.ly/WaUzy7— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) November 20, 2012
Summing up the confusion, CBC's foreign correspondent Derek Stoffel wrote:
Earlier, Reuters reported:
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was heading to the region from Asia and was expected in Jerusalem late on Tuesday for talks with Netanyahu on Wednesday.
Earlier, Egypt's state media quoted Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi as announcing "that the farce of Israeli aggression against the Gaza Strip will end on Tuesday"
Mursi said, according to the reports, that "efforts to conclude a truce between the Palestinian and Israeli sides will produce positive results in the next few hours".
The conflicting reports, however, changed nothing about the need for an end to Israeli hostilities as humanitarian groups warned all parties that the crisis in Gaza was worsening by the minute. As the Ma'an news agency in Gaza reports:
Thirty-eight aid agencies warned Monday of a humanitarian disaster in the Gaza Strip if violence continues.
"We urgently need to enforce a cease fire. The present conflict threatens to perpetuate and worsen the humanitarian impact on Palestinian civilians in Gaza of over five years of Israeli blockade and the 2008-2009 Israeli military operation 'Cast Lead'," Nishant Pandey, the Oxfam Country Director, said.
The international community must put immediate pressure on the Israeli government to keep crossing to Gaza open to allow supplies of essential humanitarian aid and both sides must uphold their obligations under International Law, the agencies said in a joint statement.
"We are urgently appealing to all sides, as well as to world leaders, to seek a political resolution and avoid the loss of any more human lives," Aleksandar Milutinovic, Mercy Corps Country Director for the West Bank/Gaza Strip said.
"If global leaders do not intervene, Gaza stands on the brink of yet another humanitarian crisis," he added.
According to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights on Tuesday, the number of Palestinians killed in Gaza by Israel's military forces had grown to 105, including 70 civilians. Specfiically, the group reports, those confirmed deaths include 23 children and 12 women.
Despite growing calls from the international community for a cease-fire, Israel's assault on Gaza continued overnight with more civilian deaths reported.
Separate Israeli missile attacks struck the residentially-located Islamic National Bank in Gaza City and a home in the Jabaliya refugee camp, killing a Palestinian family of four, including two boys aged two and four. More than a dozen people were injured in the camp, reports Al-Jazeera, mostly women and children.
Al Jazeera reports Gaza crisis worsening as Israel continues targeting in residential areas:
Though Israel continues to claim that all of its airstrikes are done under the auspices of "precision" the Palestinian Center for Human Rights reported on Monday that civilians casualties are the rule and not the exception. "The number of Palestinians killed by Israeli Occupation Forces in the course of the offensive on the Gaza Strip"—citing figures from Monday—"has increased to 87, including 58 civilians. The civilian deaths include 18 children and 12 women."
New numbers reported early Tuesday put the total death toll in Gaza well over a hundred now, with many more hundreds injured. As Israeli journalist Amira Hass points out, those numbers can be hard to confirm, but the trend towards something close to "precision" is not evident.
The death and violence that continued Tuesday brought Israel's "Operation Pillar of Defense" into its seventh day, even as high-level talks for a possible truce took place in Cairo Monday and Israeli officials considered diplomatic options late into the night.
US Secretary of State is reportedly on her way to the Middle East at this point, breaking off from a trip to Southeast Asia where she was traveling with President Barack Obama.
Al-Jazeera reports: "Clinton will meet Netanyahu and then discuss the crisis with Egyptian and Palestinian leaders, but she will not be meeting Hamas officials in Gaza and Cairo."
So far, the US has been criticized for its "quiet diplomacy," and it has been Egypt, Turkey, Qatar and the United Nations lifting the heaviest diplomatic weight in attempts to garner a cease fire between Hamas and Israel.
Following talks on Monday in Cairo, Al Jazeera's Peter Greste, reported: "There is a momentum towards a ceasefire agreement, according to the Egyptians." The details of the agreement, however, were not clear with representatives from both Hamas and Israel blaming the other for starting the latest fighting.
"It's now 50-50 between a cease-fire and expanding the operation," one unnamed Israeli official told The Guardian. "We would prefer a diplomatic solution, but if we have no choice we'll go into Gaza. There's no other way."
The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, was in Cairo for the talks Monday and warned Israel against further escalation. "This must stop," he said. "Immediate steps are needed to avoid further escalation, including a ground operation."
Moon is visiting Jerusalem on Tuesday for talks with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and then traveling to the West Bank to meet with Palestinian Authority leader, Mahmoud Abbas.