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Israel mulls Gaza truce as toll tops 100

Israel mulls Gaza truce as toll tops 100

A file photo of Benjamin Netanyahu

Jerusalem:  Israeli leaders on Tuesday discussed an Egyptian plan for a truce with Gaza's ruling Hamas, reports said, before a mission by the UN chief to Jerusalem and as the toll from Israeli raids on Gaza rose over 100.

The early morning talks came as the UN Security Council hit deadlock on a statement on the conflict with the United States saying it opposed any action that undermines efforts to reach a ceasefire.

Ministers in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's inner circle -- the Forum of Nine -- held lengthy talks over whether to agree to a ceasefire or expand the air and naval campaign into a ground operation, but no decision was announced, Israeli public radio reported.

It said Israel would like a 24- to 48-hour truce to be observed so that the two sides could work out a lasting ceasefire, with Israel possibly looking into easing its embargo on the Gaza Strip.

One Israeli television channel suggested Netanyahu was inclined to approve a truce, with a halt to the hostilities seen within 24 hours.

As the violence raged for a sixth day Monday, with Israeli strikes killing 32 Palestinians, a missile killed a senior Islamic Jihad militant in a Gaza City tower housing Palestinian and international media, the second time in as many days it has been targeted.

With UN chief Ban Ki-moon in Cairo pushing for a ceasefire, Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal said his movement was committed to efforts to secure a truce, but insisted that Israel must lift its six-year blockade of the Gaza Strip.

In New York, US ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said there had to be an agreed ceasefire between the Israelis and Hamas for any halt in violence to be "meaningful or sustainable."

But Russia warned that unless an Arab-proposed statement calling for Israel-Hamas hostilities to end was agreed by Tuesday morning it would press for a vote on the full council resolution -- setting up a potential veto clash with the United States.

The United States, Britain, France and Germany all had problems with a text proposed by Arab nations last Thursday because it made no mention of rocket fire from Palestinian militants in Gaza, diplomats said.

Terrified and desperate, many Gaza families have fled their homes, some seeking haven in the south, which has seen fewer strikes.

Mourners flocked to the funeral of nine members of one family killed in a weekend strike on a Gaza City home, the bodies of the five children carried through the streets wrapped in Palestinian flags.

As the overall death toll in Gaza hit 109, with the 32 killed on Monday making it the bloodiest day so far, the Israeli army said that 42 rockets had struck Israel and another 19 had been intercepted by the Iron Dome defence system.

To date, the military has struck more than 1,350 targets in Gaza, and 640 rockets have hit southern Israel while another 324 have been intercepted.

The violence, coming ahead of an Israeli general election on January 22, raised the spectre of a broader Israeli military campaign like its 22-day Operation Cast Lead, launched at the end of December 2008.

Analysts say the Israeli leadership appears satisfied with the success of Operation Pillar of Defence and that it could be ready for a ceasefire.

But the Jewish state has also signalled a readiness to expand the operation.

All the signs point to preparations for a ground operation, with the army sealing all roads around Gaza and some 40,000 reservists reportedly massed along the border.

The latest negotiations aimed at ending the conflict, conducted behind closed doors in Cairo, ended without agreement. But all sides have expressed a willingness to engage in more talks.

The UN chief flew to Egypt "to add his diplomatic weight to these efforts, which are considerable and extremely important", his spokesman Martin Nesirky said.

As Russia accused the United States of seeking to "filibuster" a UN Security Council statement on Gaza, Ban was to meet Egypt's Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamel Amr, and President Mohamed Morsi and Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi on Tuesday, Nesirky said.

He will then go to Jerusalem to see Israeli leaders but has no plan to go to Gaza.

The League's Arabi is due in Gaza on Tuesday, accompanied by Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and several Arab top diplomats, in the latest in a series of visits that have eased the long diplomatic isolation of the territory's Hamas rulers.

Hamas is also understood to be seeking guarantees Israel will stop its targeted killings, like the one that killed a top military commander on Wednesday, sparking the current hostilities.

Israel has its own demands, with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman insisting "the first and absolute condition for a truce is stopping all fire from Gaza."
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