World Leaders Seek Gaza Truce as Israel Musters Forces

World leaders sought to steer Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu away from sending ground forces into the Gaza Strip while Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas demanded Hamas stop its rocket attacks.

Netanyahu remained vague yesterday about Israel’s plans to intensify its military campaign against the Islamist movement that controls Gaza, saying in a televised address that a “difficult, complex” battle lies ahead, without elaborating. The Palestinian territory is surrounded by land, air and sea forces awaiting the prime minister’s word to move in.

President Barack Obama spoke by phone with Netanyahu and offered to “facilitate a cessation of hostilities,” according to a White House statement. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Security Council that the threat of a ground offensive is “still palpable -- and preventable only if Hamas stops rocket firing.”

Diplomatic efforts abounded as the Palestinian death toll from three days of Israeli air strikes in Hamas-controlled Gaza reached 90. Abbas delivered his appeal to end the bloodshed just hours after Israel disclosed it is mobilizing 20,000 soldiers for a possible ground invasion.

The public nature of Abbas’s remarks may further strain his political alliance with Hamas. Abbas has already denounced the abduction of three Israeli teenagers, whose killing Israel has blamed on the militant group, which neither confirms nor denies involvement.

‘Trying to Achieve’

“What are you trying to achieve by sending rockets?” Abbas asked on Palestine TV, without explicitly naming Hamas, which recently lent its backing to his government after a seven-year rift. “We prefer to fight with wisdom and politics.”

Israeli aircraft stepped up weeks of strikes on the territory on July 8 after the rocket fire grew heavier, reaching farther into Israel than ever before.

Israel’s benchmark TA-25 index fell 0.3 percent at the close in Tel Aviv yesterday. The shekel was little changed at 3.4305 to the dollar.

Abbas said Egyptian efforts to reach a truce have failed, and that he was in contact with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in an attempt to end the violence. Israel’s current military campaign is the third in less than six years.

Abbas patched up his breach with Hamas after negotiations with Israel collapsed. The Hamas-backed Palestinian government formed on June 2 has been beset by disputes over finances, with Abbas declining to pick up the payroll for 58,000 employees of the former Hamas government in Gaza for fear the terrorist taint would scare off donors. The U.S. and European Union, like Israel, consider Hamas a terrorist organization.

Reserves Call-Up

Israel’s Minister of Intelligence and Strategic Affairs Yuval Steinitz has signaled that the government isn’t prepared to return to the Egyptian-brokered truce that ended eight days of fighting in 2012, and has the broader aim of crushing Hamas’s military infrastructure. Steinitz told Israel Radio on July 9 that the time for a ground operation “may be nearing.”

At least 90 Gazans, most of them civilians, have been killed since Israel ramped up its offensive, the Gaza Health Ministry says. At least 10 were children, according to the United Nations Relief Works Agency. Three of the people killed in Gaza yesterday were senior figures in the rocket operations, the military said. While houses and cars have been hit, no Israelis have been killed by the rocket fire.

Israel has struck more than 650 targets in Gaza, including tunnels militants dug under the border with Israel, their homes, rocket launchers, command centers and training camps, the army said.

Changed Dynamic

International appeals to end the fighting haven’t translated into ongoing truce talks.

Egypt has said it’s been in contacted with related parties, without giving details. While it has brokered cease-fires between Israel and Gaza militants in the past, the dynamic has changed since the country’s Muslim Brotherhood government was toppled by the army a year ago. A Cairo court banned the Islamist Hamas’s activities on Egyptian soil earlier this year.

Secretary of State John Kerry, who led the peace talks between Israel and Abbas’s Palestinian Authority that broke down in April, said the U.S. is trying to see if it’s possible to end the “very, very dangerous” violence.

“No country can accept rocket fire aimed at civilians and we support completely Israel’s right to defend itself against these vicious attacks,” Kerry told reporters in Beijing. “But de-escalation ultimately is in the interest of all parties.”

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