Update: Egypt will intensify efforts to stop aggression in Gaza, says Qandil

Update: Egypt will intensify efforts to stop aggression in Gaza, says Qandil

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Fri, 16/11/2012 - 14:39

Egypt's premier urged world leaders Friday to stop Israeli "aggression" on Gaza as he visited the Hamas-run enclave and the Jewish state warned of a possible ground offensive, AFP reported.

A truce agreed during the brief visit by Prime Minister Hesham Qandil quickly dissolved in violence as what Palestinian security sources said was an Israeli air strike hit northern Gaza, killing two.

Israel accused Hamas of violating the agreement but it denied carrying out any strikes.

We have not attacked in the past two hours, in addition there have been over 60 rocket launches in the same period of time," an army spokesperson said, as Hamas militants from the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades admitted having fired more than 40 rockets over the border.

Qandil entered the bomb-scarred territory via the Rafah crossing early morning, decrying an Israeli assault on Gaza since Wednesday which has sent tensions soaring across a Middle East already shaken by Arab Spring uprisings and civil war in Syria.

Speaking at Gaza City's Shifa hospital after seeing the bodies of those killed in Friday's reported air strike, Qandil vowed to intensify Cairo's efforts to secure a truce and end Israel's "aggression" in Gaza.

"Egypt will not hesitate to intensify its efforts and make sacrifices to stop this aggression and achieve a lasting truce," he told reporters.

"What I saw today in Gaza, at the hospital, with the martyrs, cannot be met with silence," Qandil said. "This tragedy should not be met with silence and the whole world should take responsibility to stop the aggression."

On Thursday, Washington said it had urged Egypt "to use its influence in the region to help de-escalate the situation," the US State Department said.

As the violence spiraled, Israel geared up for an expansion of the campaign, with the military sending out call-up papers to 16,000 reservists.

Senior cabinet minister Moshe Yaalon also warned that Israel was considering a ground operation in order to stamp out rocket fire.

"We are preparing all the military options, including the possibility that forces will be ready to enter Gaza in the event that the firing doesn't stop," he wrote in a series of postings on his official Twitter account.

An AFP correspondent on the Israeli side of the border reported seeing tanks massed along the frontier, and a steady stream of reserve soldiers arriving for duty in the area.

The bloodshed began on Wednesday afternoon when Israel killed top Hamas military chief Ahmed Jaabari, sparking a massive escalation and a furious response from Cairo which promptly recalled its ambassador to the Jewish state.

Gaza was shaken by blasts throughout the night as Israeli warplanes carried out relentless sorties, as Palestinian militants fired more rockets into the Jewish state as the bloodshed entered a third day.

President Mohamed Morsy 's decision to send Qandil to Gaza was unprecedented, and intended to push the Hamas leadership to show restraint to avoid the escalation of violence, media sources said. 

Israeli defense sources told Reuters that it has been agreed to stop the raids during the three-hour visit of the Egyptian premier. 

"We said in our response to Egyptians that our forces will stop firing with the condition of no firing from Gaza to Israel during this period," an official from the defense ministry told Reuters.

The Palestinian death toll has reached 16 on Thursday, according to wires. Air raids have not stopped all night, according to eye witnesses, while Israel has threatened of escalating its raid to an on-the-ground attack. 

Egypt has closed the Rafah border crossing after several Israeli bombings hit the area. 

Yasser Othman, Egypt's ambassador to the Palestinian National Authority said that Egypt is not a mediator between Israel and Palestinians, but is standing with Palestinians and deploying efforts to stop Israeli violence in the Gaza Strip.