By Stephen Oryszczuk
Hopes of a ceasefire in Gaza led to rounds of fevered diplomacy this week, with US Secretary of State John Kerry and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urgently seeking a way to end hostilities between Israel and Hamas.
Together with Arab mediators from Egypt and Qatar, both men met Israeli and Palestinian leaders, seeking to hammer out a truce. But on the ground, there was no sign either side would end their assaults.
On Wednesday in Ramallah, Ban told the UN Security Council that a breakthrough could be imminent, but would not disclose details “at this highly sensitive moment”.
He added: “Suffice to say, it is my hope and belief that these talks will lead to results and an end to the fighting in the very near future.”
By evening however, hopes of peace appeared distant, the main stumbling block being Hamas’ insistence that the blockade of the Gaza Strip be lifted – a condition echoed by Abbas in the West Bank.
The frantic diplomacy came as charities and aid agencies warned of a “humanitarian crisis” in the Palestinian enclave, as fierce fighting pushed the Palestinian death-toll towards 700. Some 31 Israelis have also lost their lives.
Emergency services on both sides have struggled to cope. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said help was “urgently needed” after 100,000 Palestinians were displaced, while UN agencies said medical and food supplies were running out.
“Safe drinking water is becoming increasingly scarce, temperatures are soaring and sewage is overflowing, bringing a serious risk of disease,” said Guillaume Pierrehumbert of the ICRC.
Almost a week after launching its ground invasion, Israel said it had succeeded in destroying several tunnels used by Hamas to enter Israel, but not before several IDF soldiers were killed by terrorists using them.
On Monday, the Israeli public breathed a sigh of relief, after an attack was foiled after a group got to within a mile of Sderot. “Their plan was to kill Israeli civilians,” said an army spokesman.
Despite mounting evidence that combatants have been hiding behind Gaza’s residents, several countries this week stepped up their criticism of Israel, after the UN said 74 percent of Palestinian victims were non-combatants.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said: “Israel is acting according to international law and against terrorism. It is regrettable civilians are killed, but when we call on them to vacate and Hamas calls on them to stay, that is what happens.”
In recent days, Israeli forces have targeted hospitals, schools and mosques, which commanders said were being used as operational bases.
They have also been accused of using flechette shells that fire off tiny steel darts and which have been described as illegal under “rules of humanitarian law” by Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem.
UN human rights chief Navi Pillay warned on Wednesday that Jerusalem may have to answer for its actions, saying: “There seems to be a strong possibility that international law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes.”
She also condemned Hamas for “indiscriminate attacks” on Israel.
The accusation against the IDF was met by a counter-claim on Wednesday. “Hamas continues its inhuman tactics,” an army spokesman said.
“On a daily basis, it commits war crimes and ignores threats to life in Gaza.”
Meanwhile, UJIA has launched a project called Children of the South to help support the delivery of hot meals and children’s day camps in shelters across southern Israel.
• To donate please go to www.ujia.org/children or call 020 7424 6400. A tele-canvassing event will be held on 27 July.