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Israel says prefers diplomacy but ready to invade Gaza

 

GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel bombed dozens of targets in Gaza on Monday and said that while it was prepared to step up its offensive by sending in troops, it preferred a diplomatic solution that would end Palestinian rocket fire from the enclave.

Mediator Egypt said a deal for a truce to end the fighting could be close. The leader of Hamas said it was up to Israel to end the new conflict it had started. Israel says its strikes are to halt Palestinian missile attacks.

Twelve Palestinian civilians and four fighters were killed in the air strikes, bringing the Gaza death toll since fighting began on Wednesday to 90, more than half of them non-combatants, local officials said. Three Israeli civilians have been killed.

After an overnight lull, militants in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip fired 45 rockets at southern Israel, causing no casualties, police said. One damaged a school, but it was closed at the time.

Among targets struck in Gaza on Monday, Israeli missiles blasted a tower block housing international media for the second straight day. One person was killed there, described by a source in militant groups Islamic Jihad as one of its fighters.

Khaled Meshaal, exiled leader of Hamas, the Islamist group that rules the coastal strip, said Israel had failed to achieve its objectives. A truce was possible, but Hamas would not accept Israeli demands. Israel must first halt its strikes and lift its blockade of the enclave, he said.

“The weapons of the resistance have caught the enemy off guard,” he told a news conference in Cairo.

“Whoever started the war must end it,” he said, adding Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had asked for a truce, an assertion that a senior Israeli official dismissed as untrue.

Although 84 percent of Israelis supported the current Gaza assault, according to a Haaretz poll, only 30 percent wanted an invasion, while 19 percent wanted their government to work on securing a truce soon.

Thousands turned out on Gaza’s streets to mourn four children and five women, among 11 people killed in an Israeli strike that flattened a three-storey home the previous day….(By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Jeffrey Heller)

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