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Arab League urges international protection for Gaza

172 Gazans have been killed and 1,230 wounded as Israeli's offensive against the Strip enters its seventh day
A Palestinian relative mourns during the funeral on Monday of four members of the Moamer family killed in Rafah (AFP)

The Arab League has called on the international community to end Israeli air strikes on Gaza and to protect Palestinians, ahead of a foreign ministers' meeting later Monday.

The call, in a report to be submitted to the ministerial meeting, comes as Israel pressed its campaign of punishing raids on Gaza into a seventh day on Monday, and the Palestinian death toll rose to 172, with another 1,230 wounded.

The Arab League "affirmed the necessity of urgent steps for an immediate end to the Israeli aggression on Gaza and providing protection for the Palestinians", the report said.

Israeli "air strikes on Gaza have become a matter that cannot be met with silence any more", it said.

The pan-Arab organisation "demands that the international community intervene through its legal and humanitarian institutions to protect the Palestinian people".

The call echoes a demand by Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority is based.

So far, no Israelis have been killed since the operation began on 8 July, despite 777 rockets hitting Israel and more then 200 others intercepted, the army says.

The Arab League meeting comes amid intense international efforts to broker a truce, and with Abbas seeking UN intervention.

The Arab response has been lacklustre compared with its reaction to an eight-day war in 2012, when it sent Arab ministers to visit the besieged enclave in a show of support.

An Egyptian foreign ministry statement said Monday's meeting "is aimed at finding a solution to stop the shedding of Palestinian civilians' blood and to formulate a common Arab stance on the issue".

Hamas rules out Egypt as go-between

So far, efforts to secure a ceasefire have been unsuccessful, with Cairo taking more hands-off approach than in 2012, when it brokered an end to the eight-day war.

Ties between Cairo and Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist movement, have worsened since Egypt's military ousted president Mohamed Morsi last July.

Morsi belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Hamas is an affiliate. After removing Morsi, Egypt's military-installed authorities designated the Brotherhood a "terrorist" organisation.

World leaders have been in contact with Egyptian officials, including President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, to discuss ways of ending the latest conflict.

However, a senior Hamas member told MEE over the weekend that the movement has ruled out Egypt as a negotiator and will only consider Turkey and Qatar as potential go-betweens. 

Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid said on Sunday that his government was not contemplating a ceasefire yet, hoping the military campaign would deter Hamas in the future.

Israel kept up air strikes and artillery fire on the Gaza Strip Monday despite the diplomatic efforts to halt the bloodshed. Four Gazans were reportedly killed in overnight strikes, Ma'an news agency reported.

Aircraft struck three training facilities of Hamas's military wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, around the coastal territory, but caused no casualties, medics and eyewitnesses said.

They also hit buildings in Gaza City and in the northern town of Jabaliya, injuring an unspecified number of people.

Two men were killed in air strikes that hit Khan Yunis, one man killed in Deir al-Balah and a fourth man in Gaza City, Ma'an reported.

Although Gazan casualties over Sunday night were much lower than previous nights during the seven day offensive, MEE contributor Mohammed Omer said the intensity of F16 air strikes on Sunday night in Gaza City were as strong as any other night in the past week. The Israeli army is keeping up the pace of the attacks, he said by phone, but on Sunday, as opposed to other nights, did not target locations with civilians resulting in fewer casualties.

There was shelling reported in Beit Lahiya, in the far north of the strip, where Israel had earlier warned residents of an impending assault.Israel also moved against Hamas in the occupied West Bank, arresting 23 Palestinians in the West Bank overnight, including five Hebron residents reportedly linked to Hamas who are being investigated in connection with the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers, Haaretz reported.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon said "too many" Palestinian civilians have been killed, as the Palestinian death toll from the punishing Israeli campaign hit 172 with another 1,230 people wounded.

Ban also urged Israel to scrap plans for a potentially devastating ground offensive, fears of which have sent Gazans fleeing from the north.

Israeli media reported that a security cabinet meeting ended late Sunday with no orders for a ground assault.

No end in sight

Despite increasing calls for a ceasefire, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the military was hitting Hamas "with growing force", warning there was no end in sight.

"We do not know when this operation will end," he told ministers.

US Secretary of State John Kerry phoned Netanyahu to renew a US offer to help mediate a truce and he "highlighted the US concern about escalating tensions on the ground," a senior State Department official said.

Kerry also said that he was engaged with regional leaders "to help to stop the rocket fire so calm can be restored and civilian casualties prevented".

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said he would ask Ban to "put the State of Palestine under the UN international protection system" in order to address the violence in Gaza.

As the death toll rose, the Gaza-based Palestinian Centre for Human Rights said most of the victims were civilians, putting their number at more than 130, among them 35 children and 26 women.

So far, no Israelis have been killed, although fighters in Gaza have pounded the south and centre of the country with about 715 rockets since the fighting began on 8 July, an army spokeswoman told AFP late Sunday. Around 160 had been intercepted, she said.

For the first time during the Israeli operation, a rocket fired from Syria hit the Israeli-occupied sector of the Golan heights but landed on empty ground, causing no casualties.

Israel responded with artillery fire at Syrian army positions, the Israeli military said.

Four rockets fired from southern Lebanon struck northern Israel early Monday, Lebanese security sources said.

No casualties were reported in Israel and the army responded with artillery fire.

An AFP correspondent in southern Lebanon reported more than 30 shells were fired, but there was no information yet on casualties.

On Sunday, Israeli naval commandos staged a brief ground assault in northern Gaza on a mission to destroy longer-range rockets, with the army warning residents to leave the area ahead of a major assault on the sector.

Hamas told Gazans to ignore the Israeli warnings.

Thousands of Gazans flee

In northern Gaza, even before the army's warnings went out, thousands of residents of the blockaded coastal strip began fleeing the traumatic violence, an AFP correspondent reported.

About 17,000 people have taken shelter in installations of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, the agency said in a statement.

Saturday's death toll was the highest yet with 56 people killed, including 18 people who died in a single strike on a house in Gaza City, medics said.

Eight people were killed in air strikes on Sunday and another two died early Monday of injuries received in earlier raids.

Pope Francis appealed to world leaders for both prayer and diplomacy to halt the bloodshed, while the German and Italian foreign ministers were both poised to head to the region to join truce efforts, their offices said.

With Palestinian civilians bearing the brunt of the violence, clashes erupted in central Paris as thousands of people protested against Israel and in support of Gazans. Protesters also rallied across Asia to condemn the Israeli offensive, with 3,000 gathering in Sydney and hundreds more in Hong Kong, New Delhi and Jakarta.

Israel has warned that preparations are under way for a possible ground incursion.

But Israeli media said that a meeting of Netanyahu's security cabinet ended Sunday night without giving the order for ground operations.

The latest escalation began on 12 June when three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and murdered, triggering a crackdown on Hamas in the West Bank and an increase in rocket fire from Gaza, which worsened after a Palestinian teen was killed by Jewish extremists on 2 July.

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