For a second time during the week long conflict with Israel, Palestinian rockets have targeted Jerusalem at a time when regional and international efforts to enforce a ceasefire have gathered significant momentum.
An air-raid siren sounded in Jerusalem at the 2.15 pm local time, shortly after U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, arrived in the city to reinforce a ceasefire call. One of the rockets, which did not explode, landed near a Palestinian village, while another slammed into an open area near Hebron.
These projectiles did not cause any injuries, but their firing imparted a sense of Palestinian brinkmanship — especially at a time when chances for a ceasefire, that would avoid a full scale Israeli invasion of Gaza, seem to have improved markedly over the past 24 hours.
After maintaining a discreet profile on the margins, the Americans have jumped in with full diplomatic force to prevent an Israeli land incursion into Gaza, in tandem with seeking a complete halt in rocket firings from the coastal strip. While in Cambodia, President Barack Obama called his Egyptian counterpart Mohamed Morsy and Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. By morning on Tuesday, a decision had been taken that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would travel to West Asia, to first meet Mr. Netanyahu, and then Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah. She would then set off for Cairo, the focal point of ceasefire talks.
As diplomacy accelerated rapidly, Mr. Netanyahu huddled with his top nine ministers late into the night on Monday to evaluate options, including the structuring of a truce or a land invasion.
Israel is apparently inclined to support a 24-to-48-hour truce that would allow time for long term ceasefire, rooted to an end of rocket firings into Israel and possible easing of the embargo on Gaza, enforced since 2007.
Apart from western opposition, Israel also risks its ties with Egypt, anchored in the 1979 peace treaty, if it expands its military campaign.
Unlike 2008 when Israel had attacked Hamas, the group has now broken out of its relative isolation, with strong and visible support coming from Egypt, Turkey, Tunisia, Qatar and the Arab League.
On Tuesday, Foreign Ministers from Egypt, Morocco, Palestine, Iraq, Sudan, Qatar, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey headed for the city of al-Arish, en route Gaza.
Buoyed by the support and a much better demonstration of its military capability, Hamas leaders have adopted a tough posture — a stance that can help them claim “victory” in a post-ceasefire scenario. At a Monday press conference, Hamas chief in exile Khaled Meshal asserted that it was Mr. Netanyahu who had requested a ceasefire — a position that a senior Israeli official swiftly denied.
Mr. Meshal added: “The people of Gaza are not asking for an end of the war, they are asking for their rights, they are asking that Israel end its assassinations and its raids and lift the blockade of Gaza.”
Separately, Mohammed Deif, the head of Hamas’ military wing appeared in a Hamas video on Tuesday. Addressing members of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam, he said: “You must prepare yourself. Put your faith in Allah and in your ability to win. Israel has underestimated Hamas. We’re on constant alert. This path will lead us to paradise.”
Call for solidarity
Mr. Meshal also called for solidarity in Arab and Palestinian ranks, signalling the shifting power hierarchy among the Palestinian factions. Nabil Shaath, a former Palestinian Foreign Minister, belonging to the secular Fatah, echoed calls for unity by saying that all Palestinians are “with the resistance against the enemy and with the truce that would stop the aggression and lift the siege of Gaza”.
Despite the escalating calls for a ceasefire, there has been no perceptible letup in the fighting so far. Israeli air strikes have struck 1000 targets during the week long conflict, while the Palestinians have fired more than 800 rockets into Israel. According to the Gaza health ministry, the death toll on Tuesday morning had climbed to 112, with civilians and children suffering half the casualties.