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Smoke billows from a building hit by an Israeli air strike in the town of Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on July 14. 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 today. (AFP)
Kuwait condemns aggression Israelis hold off Gaza ground assault; toll 177

GAZA CITY, July 14, (Agencies): Israel slowed the pace of its raids on Gaza 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. Meanwhile, the State of Kuwait on Monday reiterated its denunciation of criminals acts and practices committed by Israel against the Palestinian people. The condemnation came during a weekly cabinet meeting held under chairmanship of His Highness the Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber Al-Mubarak Al-Hamad Al-Sabah.

The cabinet voiced much concern over Israel’s continuing air strikes at the Gaza Strip, which left scores of Palestinian innocent civilians, mostly women and children, dead or wounded. The Kuwaiti cabinet called on the international community to live up to its humanitarian responsibility by exerting more pressure on the “Israeli entity” to stop its continuing aggression on the Palestinian people and its crimes against humanity in the Gaza Strip.

It also urged the world to provide international protection for the Palestinian people and to support ongoing efforts to achieve just, comprehensive and permanent peace in the Middle East region.
Elsewhere, Washington warned its Israeli ally Monday against any ground invasion of Gaza, as Egyptian officials said the US top diplomat was headed to the region to join efforts to end a week of deadly violence. The White House stopped short of criticising Israel over the civilian casualty toll from its devastating air and artillery bombardment of the densely populated Palestinian enclave that has drawn flak from the United Nations and human rights watchdogs.
 
It said the Israeli government had the “right” and “responsibility” to defend its citizens against rocket attacks by its Islamist foe Hamas from its Gaza stronghold. But it said even more civilians would be put at risk were Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to heed hardliners in his governing coalition and send in troops and armour. With Israel’s punishing air campaign in its seventh day, the death toll in Gaza hit 177, prompting growing calls for a ceasefire which have so far showed little sign of progress.
Ahead of an emergency meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo, Hamas shot down hopes of a deal to end the violence, saying no serious moves had been made.
“Talk of a ceasefire requires real and serious efforts, which we haven’t seen so far,” Hamas MP Mushir al-Masri told AFP in Gaza City.
“Any ceasefire must be based on the conditions we have outlined. Nothing less than that will be accepted,” he said, in a show of defiance in the face of the withering Israeli bombardment.
Israel has said it is not ready to countenance a ceasefire either, as it seeks to deal ever harsher blows to Hamas and stamp out its capacity to fire rockets deep into the Jewish state.
In a bid to add Washington’s weight to truce efforts, US Secretary of State John Kerry is to fly into Cairo on Tuesday, Egyptian state media reported.
“Kerry will visit Egypt tomorrow, Tuesday, to conduct talks with senior officials,” the official MENA news agency reported.
There was no immediate comment from the State Department, with Israeli press reports suggesting Kerry would also visit Jerusalem and the West Bank city of Ramallah, headquarters of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.
While Arab states have demanded an immediate halt to Israel’s military campaign, with Jordan’s King Abdullah II urging Israel to “stop targeting civilians,” Germany’s top diplomat said Hamas should “immediately” halt its rocket fire.
“Firing rockets on Israel by Hamas should stop immediately,” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said at a news conference in Amman, ahead of a visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories to add Berlin’s voice to the truce efforts.
In Gaza City’s Tel al-Hawa neighbourhood, relatives of a retired economics professor in his 80s looked at the damage to his home, clearly bemused as to why it should have been targeted by an Israeli missile.
This time, the family escaped unharmed, fleeing after an initial warning strike. But the missile itself failed to explode, drawing a crowd of curious onlookers as officials wondered how to remove it.
Human rights groups say more than 75 percent of the dead have been non-combatants. The UN agency for Palestinian refugees says more than a quarter of them have been children.
Although Israel has confirmed preparations for a possible ground attack, it appeared to be holding off with the security cabinet meeting reportedly deciding against putting boots on the ground — for now.
But the pace of the air strikes slowed noticeably on Monday.
Seven people were killed, far fewer than the 56 killed on Saturday, the bloodiest day by far of a campaign which began before dawn on July 8 with the aim of halting militant rocket fire on southern Israel.
So far, no Israelis have been killed. A handful have been seriously wounded.
The rocket fire has since intensified, with Hamas militants launching more than 800 rockets at cities across Israel, including Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and the northern city of Hadera. A further 187 have been shot down.
“The military steps being taken by both sides in the last 24 hours were a function, among other things, of the developments in the dialogue,” Alex Fishman wrote in the top-selling Yediot Aharonot newspaper, saying the state of negotiations should become clear “in the next 24 hours.”
“If no catastrophe takes place, that causes a particularly high number of fatalities on either side, the likelihood is that the fire will abate as early as this week.”
As the human scale of the tragedy grew, a senior military official said the army was using a “pain map,” hitting targets seen as most valuable to the Islamist movement.
So far, Hamas does not appear in any mood for concessions.
Masri said its conditions would include a lifting of Israel’s eight-year blockade on Gaza, the opening of its Rafah border crossing with Egypt, and the release of prisoners Israel rearrested after freeing them in exchange for kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in 2011.
 
Speaking to AFP in Cairo, another Hamas official said a general framework had been presented, but the leadership wanted more than it gained in a previous truce which ended the last major round of violence with Israel. “We need to build on the 2012 truce and move forward,” he said. In other news, Israel is to indict three Jewish extremists with murder over the brutal killing of a Palestinian teenager, officials said Monday, as it emerged their initial target was an eight-year-old child. According to a statement given to Petah Tikvah magistrates court near Tel Aviv, a 29-year-old man and two minors aged 17 are to be charged on counts of murder, kidnapping with intent to murder, arson and attempted arson, all committed “on racist-nationalistic grounds,” police said.
 
Mohammed Abu Khder, 16, was kidnapped from east Jerusalem on July 2 and burned to death by Jewish extremists in a suspected revenge attack for the abduction and killing of three Israeli teenagers.
The brutal murder triggered days of violent protests in east Jerusalem that quickly spread to Arab towns across Israel, with stone-throwers fighting pitched battles with riot police. A police statement, issued after a court lifted the gag order on the case, said all three suspects had confessed to the killing and carried out a reenactment for investigators. Seven arrests were made in connection with the case, although four people were released after police and the Shin Bet internal security agency determined they were not directly involved. In a separate statement, Shin Bet said the three suspects confessed to killing Abu Khder in revenge for last month’s kidnap and murder of the three Israeli teens by Palestinian militants.
 
The three had decided to kill an Arab, and equipped themselves with cable ties, petrol and other materials, and had randomly chosen Abu Khder as their victim, it said. Shin Bet said the suspects were all related. On July 1, the suspects had tried to kidnap an eight-year-old child elsewhere in east Jerusalem, but were thwarted by the child’s mother. Police said the three had searched several east Jerusalem neighbourhoods in search of a victim before happening on Abu Khder. After forcing him into the car, they struck him on the head and drove to a forest in west Jerusalem, where they poured flammable liquid on him and set him alight.
 
An initial forensic report showed smoke in his lungs, indicating he was alive when set alight. A lawyer for the family told AFP his body had been burnt beyond recognition. Israeli media said the defence strategy of the 29-year-old prime suspect would be mental instability, with reports saying he had previously been in psychiatric treatment after trying to strangle his infant daughter. A spokesman for Honenu, a legal organisation which defends right-wing Jewish extremists, said the indictment would be filed on Friday. A spokeswoman for the state attorney’s office told AFP the indictment could be earlier, noting the exact clauses of the charge sheet could still change.

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