Israel holds off Gaza ground assault as world urges calm

In a file photo taken July 8, 2014, an Israeli missile explodes on impact in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip.— PHOTO: AP

In a file photo taken July 8, 2014, an Israeli missile explodes on impact in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip.— PHOTO: AP  

Israel slowed the pace of its raids on Gaza on Monday and held off a threatened ground incursion as the world intensified efforts to broker a truce around the Palestinian territory.

With Israel’s campaign to halt cross-border rocket fire entering its seventh day, Arab ministers were poised to hold an emergency meeting to discuss moves to end the bloodshed.

And Jordan’s King Abdullah II warned of the dangers the crisis could pose for the wider region, demanding Israel “stop targeting civilians” as the death toll hit 175.

But as diplomatic efforts gained momentum, the pace of both Israel’s raids on Gaza and the militant rocket fire slowed noticeably, with commentators drawing a link with behind-the-scenes ceasefire efforts.

Human rights groups have said more than 75 per cent of the dead were non-combatants. The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees has said more than a quarter of them were children.

But, despite preparations for a possible ground attack, Israel appeared to be holding off with ministers at a Sunday night security cabinet meeting reportedly deciding against putting boots on the ground — for the time being.

Following a night in which Israel struck 40 targets, the pace of the air strikes appeared to slow noticeably — and with it the death toll, AFP correspondents reported.

Four people were killed on Monday. A fifth died of injuries from an earlier strike, Gaza emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said.

Over the past 24 hours, more than 17,000 Palestinians, most of them from northern Gaza, have packed into around 20 schools run by the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees in a bid to seek some respite from the bombing.

Inside the New Gaza Boys School in Gaza City, every classroom was packed full of people, with blankets strung across doorways to provide some privacy. As the human scale of the tragedy grew, Israel said its campaign has caused “huge” damage to Hamas, with a senior military official saying the army was using a “pain map,” hitting targets seen as most valuable to the Islamist movement. — AFP

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