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Israel and Gaza trade blows as truce talks continue, conflict records 109 death toll

As air strikes continue to hit Gaza and a possible truce is still being discussed, the UN Security Council’s silence on the conflict is now aggravating the Palestinian Authority.

Israel’s President Shimon Peres also said those who criticise the actions of the Jewish state should instead offer alternative courses of action in response to rockets and mortar shells being fired at it from the Gaza strip.

Western journalists on the ground including CNN’s Anderson Cooper have tweeted reports of continued air strikes on Gaza City.

“Explosion sounds in #Gaza City as calls to prayers echo through the night ,” he tweeted.

Israel’s biggest newspaper website, haaretz.com, is reporting that the Netanyahu government’s cabinet meeting has wrapped up and the army radio is reporting  “rumors that cease-fire is nigh”.

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A Palestinian woman mourns after an Israeli air strike destroyed her house in the town of Jabalia, in the northern Gaza Strip, on November 19. Picture: AFP

The UN Security Council has hit a deadlock on a statement on the Gaza conflict, with the United States saying it opposes any action that undermines efforts to reach a ceasefire.

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 US.

The US, 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.

All the western nations have said that Israel has the right to defend itself, while the Europeans have urged restraint on the Israeli government in its latest offensive on Gaza which has now left more than 100 dead.

Palestinian envoy to the UN, Riyad Mansour, highlighted the growing frustration of the Palestinian Authority and its allies as the fighting intensifies and the council says nothing.

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An Israeli youth cries after a rocket was launched from the Gaza Strip on November 19 in Ashkelon, Israel. Picture: Getty Images

The Security Council cannot “remain on the margin,” he told reporters.

He said it was now urgent for the “the Security Council to shoulder its responsibility and stop this aggression against our people.”

US ambassador 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.”

“The United States and countries in the region are working energetically through all diplomatic channels to try to negotiate an end to the violence, a de-escalation,” Rice told reporters after the talks.

She said US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had been on the telephone with Middle East leaders “throughout the day.”

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An Israeli child plays in a large concrete pipe used as a bomb shelter on November 19 In Nitzan, Israel. Picture: Getty Images

It was “vitally important” that any Security Council action “is reinforcing the prospects for an agreed cessation and not doing anything that could undermine that prospect or run counter to it.

“That is our principal objective in these discussions and we will continue to pursue that aim,” she added.

The US ambassador would seek instructions from the US administration on the Arab text during the night.

Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin said the Arab proposal, made through Morocco, was “a very good text”.

“If the statement is not adopted at 9am tomorrow morning we will go for a vote of our draft” on Wednesday afternoon, he said.

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Israelis take cover in a stairway during a rocket attack from the Gaza Strip on November 19 in Ashkelon, Israel. Picture: Getty Images

Several diplomats said they expected objections to the draft text to be made by at least three Security Council members.

The Russian resolution would call for a cessation of violence, support for Egyptian-led efforts to secure a ceasefire and encourage Israel and the Palestinian Authority to resume their frozen talks, according to a copy obtained by AFP.

If the Russian resolution was put to a vote it would probably be vetoed by the US, which systematically blocks resolutions seen as critical of Israel.

Death toll reaches 109

As at 2pm AEDT Israeli strikes have killed 32 Palestinians, taking the Gaza death toll to 109 as UN chief Ban Ki-moon joined efforts to end the worst violence in four years and Israel’s inner circle of ministers mulled their next move.

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Palestinian firefighters try to extinguish a blaze after an Israeli air strike on the Islamic National Bank building in Gaza City today. Picture: AFP

An Israeli 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 Ban 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.

Terrified and desperate, many Gaza families have fled their homes, some seeking haven in the south which has seen fewer strikes. But they know nowhere is safe.

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

As the overall death toll in Gaza hit 109, with another 32 people 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.

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Israeli artillery shells attack a target in the Gaza Strip on Israel’s border. Picture: Getty Images/ Christopher Furlong

To date, the military has struck more than 1350 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.

Ministers in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s inner circle – the Forum of Nine – were reportedly in talks over whether to agree to a ceasefire or expand the air campaign into a wider ground operation.

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Israeli soldiers prepare weapons in a deployment area on November 19 on Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip. Picture: Getty Images

Israeli public radio said the meeting late on Monday would touch on an Egyptian ceasefire proposal that emerged following a full day of indirect negotiations in Cairo between Israeli officials and Palestinian representatives.

The report said Israel wanted to see a 24- to 48-hour truce take effect that could then be used to negotiate the finer details of a full ceasefire.

There was no immediate indication on whether a firm decision on Egypt’s proposal would emerge from the meeting as it stretched past midnight and the three-hour mark.

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, awaiting orders from the political echelon.

Dan Harel, former deputy chief of the Israeli military, said there was a maximum of 48 hours for Egyptian-led truce efforts to bear fruit or the troops would have to go in.

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Palestinian civilians watch as firefighters extinguish fire from a car after it was hit by an Israeli air strike in Beit Lahia, northern of Gaza Strip, on November 19. Picture: AFP

“There are two basic alternatives,” he told journalists.

“One is an agreement, cooked in Cairo, and the other is escalating the situation and moving forward into the Gaza Strip with a land effort, which is going to be bad for both sides,” he said in English.

“We are about 24 to 48 hours from this junction.”

Iran instigated Gaza violence: Peres

Against the backdrop of continued violence, the President of Israel has told CNN that Hamas is backed by Iran and while the Jewish state won’t go to war with its neighbour, it is trying to prevent long-range missiles from the rogue state reaching Gaza.

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Birzeit University students clash with Israeli soldiers at the Atara checkpoint close to the university as they protest against Israel’s military action on the Gaza Strip, on November 19. Picture: AFP

“The unpleasant one is the Iranians. They are trying again to encourage the Hamas to continue the shooting, the bombing, they trying to send them arms,” Shimon Peres told CNN’s Piers Morgan.

“They are out of their mind,” he said

“And we are not going to make a war with Iran but we are trying to prevent the shipping of long range missiles which Iran is sending to Hamas. And they are urge to Hamas to fire,” President Peres said.

“I think that Iran is a little bit disappointed that not only the Israeli army is trying to stop it, but also the Israeli people are behaving with great courage and great understanding.”

Iran’s willingness to fund terror organisations is a problem for countries other than Israel, Mr Peres said.

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Israeli forces stand by their armoured vehicle seen ablaze after Palestinian protestors thew a Molotov cocktail on it during clashes in the centre of the divided West Bank city of Hebron, near the Israeli Beit Hadassa settlement, on November 19. Picture: AFP

“Iran is a problem, world problem. Not only from the point of view of building a nuclear danger, but also from the point of being a center of world terror. They finance, they train, they send arms, they urge, no responsibility, nor any moral consideration. It’s a world problem and you know it,” he said.

While talks are ongoing in an effort to reach a truce, ending the violence is in everyone’s interests, Mr Peres said.

“The negotiations are still being continued. It’s difficult for all parties, but it’s not over and the best choice for all of us is to stop shooting,” he said.

Those who criticise Israel’s actions should suggest a solution, he said.

“Whoever criticizes us should suggest an alternative – we started with great restraint. In the last six days 1,200 missiles fall on our civilians lives, on mothers, on children. We tried to do it with restraint, but apparently they hide themselves in private homes, even in mosques, and we are trying to do our best not to hit any civilian on the other side, but unfortunately a war is a war and they can stop it in one minute if they’ll stop shooting, there won’t be any causalities,” he said.

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Israeli border guards fire tear gas canister towards Palestinian protestors during clashes in the centre of the divided West Bank city of Hebron, near the Israeli Beit Hadassa settlement, on November 19. Picture: AFP

The Herald Sun

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