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Netanyahu says Gaza offensive will continue as 13 killed

Aug. 24, 2014 3:49 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 25, 2014 5:21 P.M.)
GAZA CITY (AFP) -- Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that Israel's Gaza offensive would continue as long as necessary, a day after an Egyptian call for a ceasefire and new truce talks.

Israeli air strikes killed 13 Palestinians in the besieged coastal enclave on Sunday and injured dozens more, bringing the total death toll to 2,111. The United Nations says 70 percent of the Palestinian victims were civilians, and that among the dead have been 478 children.

"Operation Protective Edge will continue until its aims are achieved ... it may take time," Netanyahu said of the offensive launched on July 8.

As of Sunday afternoon, Israel had carried out 27 strikes while 50 rockets were fired from Gaza, 47 of which hit Israel, an army spokeswoman said.

Five Palestinians were killed Sunday afternoon including three children when an Israeli airstrike hit a house in the Tal al-Zaatar neighborhood in the northern Gaza Strip, bringing the death toll since midnight to 13.

Witnesses told Ma'an reporter that an Israeli missile hit a house without any warning, killing five members of the family.

The new bloodshed came after Israel pounded Gaza with at least 60 strikes on Saturday, killing 10 Palestinians, mostly women and children, and bringing down a 12-story apartment block.

There was still no sign of either side adopting the ceasefire Egypt appealed for on Saturday to allow negotiators to return to Cairo to thrash out the details of a durable truce.

Since a previous round of frantic Egyptian diplomacy collapsed on Tuesday, shattering nine days of calm, 88 Palestinians and a four-year-old Israeli boy have been killed in the violence.

At a special cabinet session at the defense ministry in Tel Aviv, Netanyahu repeated his warning of harsh retribution for the death of the Israeli child on Friday in a rocket strike on a kibbutz near the Gaza border.

PM warns Lebanon, Syria

"Hamas is paying, and will continue to pay, a heavy price for the crimes it carries out," he said.

"I call on residents of Gaza to immediately leave any structure from which Hamas carries out terror activity against us. All such sites are a target for us."

Netanyahu also added a veiled warning to neighboring Lebanon and Syria after overnight rocket fire into Israel.

"There is not and will not be any immunity for anyone who fires at Israeli citizens, and that is true for every sector and every border," he said.

Earlier on Sunday, five rockets fired from Syrian-controlled territory slammed into the Israeli-occupied sector of the Golan Heights but caused no casualties, the Israeli army said.

Late Saturday, a rocket fired from Lebanon struck northern Israel, causing damage but no casualties.

Israel has so far not responded to either attack.

In a statement on Saturday, the Egyptian foreign ministry urged "concerned parties" in the Gaza conflict to accept an open-ended truce and resume indirect negotiations in Cairo.

Previous ceasefires with fixed timeframes have failed to give Egyptian mediators shuttling between Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams enough time to broker a deal acceptable to both.

The Palestinian team has demanded consistently that any long-term truce include an end to an eight-year siege that has crippled Gaza's economy, in addition to the re-opening of a closed airport and seaport among other things.

The demands are consistent with the terms of the Oslo Accords signed between Israel and the Palestinians in the 1990s, but which Israel has failed to abide by amid its refusal to consider direct negotiations of any kind with Hamas, which it considers a terrorist group.

Israeli authorities have said that they would be willing to extend the ceasefire indefinitely but previously stressed that a long-term agreement should include the demilitarization of the Strip.

The Palestinian team has scoffed at this demand, saying that it was Palestinian fighters who prevented the full-scale infiltration and re-occupation of Gaza by Israeli forces in recent weeks.

Egypt truce talks bid

The invitation to new truce talks by Egypt came after a meeting on Saturday between Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.

"What interests us now is putting a stop to the bloodshed," Abbas said.

"As soon as a ceasefire goes into effect, the two sides can sit down and discuss their demands," he said, adding that, as in previous rounds of talks, Hamas would be represented in the Palestinian delegation.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told AFP that "any proposal offered to the movement will be discussed".

Abbas held two rounds of talks in Qatar on Thursday and Friday with exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal before heading to Cairo.

At least 2,111 Palestinians and 68 people on the Israeli side, all but four of them soldiers, have been killed since July 8.

Around 460,000 people have fled their homes in Gaza -- more than a quarter of the enclave's 1.8 million population.

Ma'an staff contributed to this report.
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