Gaza shuttle diplomacy gives cease-fire signals
REUTERS PhotoA blast ripped through a bus in Tel Aviv injuring 17 people in what Israel said was a terrorist attack, further vexing international efforts to end the relentless violence in and around Gaza.
The attack came as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon shuttled between Jerusalem and Ramallah trying to secure a halt to the week-long conflict in which 148 Palestinians and five Israelis have died.
Soon after the bus blast, Israel launched fresh air strikes on Gaza City, killing six Palestinians in attacks which raised the day’s death toll to 11, medics told Agence France-Presse.
One of the strikes hit the building housing Agence France-Presse’s Gaza City offices for the second time in 24 hours, killing a toddler in the block next door, according to a health ministry spokesperson. No journalists were in the building at the time. The strike came shortly after the Tel Aviv blast, which occurred very close to the Kiriya, the Israeli Defense Ministry. “A bomb exploded on a bus in central Tel Aviv. This was a terrorist attack,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokesman Ofir Gendelman said on his official Twitter account.
Of the 17 wounded, one was in moderate-to-serious condition while another three sustained moderate injuries, Israel’s emergency services said. Condemnation poured in from around the world, with Washington calling it a “terrorist attack,” and Moscow a “criminal terrorist act.” France and Germany both called for an urgent and lasting cease-fire to end the bloodshed. Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom, who heard the explosion from his Tel Aviv office, called it “an escalation.”
Hamas hails attack
“What does it say about the future of the [truce] talks? I leave it to [the senior officials], but this doesn’t contribute anything,” Yitzhak Aharonovich, Israel’s minister of internal security, told Army Radio. While Hamas did not take responsibility for the attack, it praised the bombing. “We consider it a natural response to the occupation crimes and the ongoing massacres against civilians in the Gaza Strip,” Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum told The Associated Press.
Just before the explosion, the U.N. chief had called for an immediate halt to militant rocket attacks on Israel after talks with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
“I reiterate my call for an immediate cessation of indiscriminate rocket attacks by Palestinian militants targeting Israeli populated centers. This is unacceptable,” Ban told a news conference. Israel said it had attacked 1,450 targets in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip since assassinating the head of Hamas’ military wing.
Abbas recently held talks with Clinton, with a senior official saying Abbas had expressed hope that a truce would be announced by the end of yesterday, while the U.S. diplomat was still in the region.Before leaving for Egypt, Clinton returned to Jerusalem for more talks with Netanyahu in their second meeting since her arrival late Nov. 20. Clinton said that Washington’s commitment to Israeli security was “rock solid and unwavering” after meeting with Netanyahu late Nov. 20. Upon landing in Cairo, Clinton went straight into talks with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi.