Egypt on Friday called for a long-term truce between Israel and the Palestinians, but even a brief ceasefire during Prime Minister Hesham Qandil’s visit to the Gaza Strip did not hold.
Mr Qandil travelled to the enclave to show solidarity with residents on the third day of an Israeli military offensive and ongoing rocket fire from Gaza aimed at Israel. An explosion was heard in Tel Aviv, as air raid sirens sounded, shortly after his departure.
“We are seeking to achieve a Hudna (ceasefire) that lasts until comprehensive and just peace is achieved,” Mr Qandil told journalists in Gaza City. “The tragedy I watched today in Gaza cannot be ignored. The aggression must be stopped.” Israeli bombardment and rockets fired by Palestinian militants have so far claimed 23 lives - 20 Palestinians and three Israelis.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had promised Egypt that Israel would hold its fire during Mr Qandil’s visit, but only on the condition that the Palestinians would not launch any missiles.
The Israeli military said 50 rockets hit Israel while Mr Qandil was in Gaza.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel appealed to Egypt to use its influence with Hamas to stop the attacks on Israel, her deputy spokesman said in Berlin.
Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defence is a massive - primarily aerial - bombardment of targets in the salient, which prompted Gaza militias to launch hundreds of rockets at the Jewish state in response.
Germany and the European Union have condemned Hamas’ rocket attacks and warned against a further escalation in the Middle East.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said, “Hamas rocket attacks from Gaza are responsible for this escalation and have caused significant damage and many casualties on the Israeli side.” EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said, “Israel has the right to protect its population from these kinds of attacks. I urge Israel to ensure that its response is proportionate.”
Mr Qandil said Egypt would stand by the Palestinians until they “end the occupation and establish their independent state ... I’m here sent by President Mohamed Morsi not only for political support but also to physically support them.” Tunisia’s foreign minister will lead a delegation to the Gaza Strip on Saturday to show solidarity with the Palestinian people, Radio Mosaique reported. President Moncef Marzouki also promised to send humanitarian aid to Gaza.
By 1000 GMT on Friday, the military said 335 rockets fired from the Gaza Strip had landed in Israel, and Israel had attacked approximately 500 targets in the Gaza Strip.
Israel began the offensive on Wednesday with an airstrike that killed the head of Hamas’ military wing, Ahmed Ja’abari. Waves of airstrikes followed, promoting scores of rocket barrages on southern Israel from Gaza.
Israeli has said the aim of the operation is to target Hamas and its capabilities. It was approved after days of rocket attacks by Islamic Jihad, Hamas and other armed groups.
The Arab Doctors’ Union on Friday said some of its members were in the Gaza Strip to provide medical assistance. “One aim of our visit is to know at firsthand the medical needs of Gaza’s people,” Abdul Moneim Abul Fotouh, who heads the union, told Al Jazeera.
Israel, meanwhile, has begun calling up military reserves, as officials have indicated that a ground-force incursion into Gaza is an option. An Israeli military spokeswoman said 16,000 reservists were being called up.