Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas told a crisis meeting in Ramallah on Wednesday that Israel is committing “genocide” in Gaza during its military offensive which has so far killed at least 50 Palestinians.
“It’s genocide -- the killing of entire families is genocide by Israel against our Palestinian people,” Abbas told the crisis meeting of the Palestinian leadership.
“What’s happening now is a war against the Palestinian people as a whole and not against the (militant) factions.
“We know that Israel is not defending itself, it is defending settlements, its main project,” said Abbas.
“We are moving in several ways to stop the Israeli aggression and spilling of Palestinian blood, including talking to Egyptian President (Abdel Fattah) al-Sisi and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.”
The Israeli military said it struck about 200 Hamas targets on the second day of its operation, which it says is needed to end incessant rocket attacks out of Gaza.
Death toll on Wednesday rose to at least 63 people killed in Gaza and more than 400 wounded.
Militants, however, continued to fire rocket salvos deep into Israeli territory, and Israel mobilized thousands of forces along the Gaza border ahead of a possible ground operation.
The militants on Tuesday launched three rockets towards the southern Israeli town of Dimona and its nuclear reactor on Wednesday, causing no injury or damage, the Israeli military said.
One of the rockets was intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome defensive shield, and two others fell in open areas. None caused damage or injuries, an army spokesman said.
“The army is ready for all possibilities,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said after holding a meeting of his Security Cabinet.
“Hamas will pay a heavy price for firing toward Israeli citizens. The security of Israel’s citizens comes first. The operation will expand and continue until the fire toward our towns stops and quiet returns.”
The fighting stepped up as Egypt, which often serves as a mediator between Israel and the Palestinians, said it was in contact with both sides to end the violence.
“There is no mediation, in the common sense of the word,” said Egyptian foreign ministry spokesman Badr Abdelatty.
“Egyptian diplomatic efforts are aimed at immediately stopping Israeli aggression and ending all mutual violence. (Egyptian) contacts have not yet achieved a result.”
Kerry’s bid to de-escalate
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was in China Wednesday but that did not stop him from engaging with Mideast leaders and others in a bid to halt escalating Israeli-Palestinian violence.
Kerry was leaning on Netanyahu and Abbas to exercise restraint on both sides.
“Secretary Kerry spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu this morning, and he plans to speak with President Abbas over the next 24 hours,” AFP quoted State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki as telling reporters in Washington.
It was Kerry’s third call with Netanyahu since Friday.
Arab nations call for emergency meeting
The U.N. Security Council will meet at 10 a.m. (1400 GMT) on Thursday to discuss escalating Israel and Palestinian hostilities and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is likely to brief the 15-member body, Reuters reported diplomats as saying.
Scheduling the meeting came after Arab nations called for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council and immediate action to end what they say is Israel’s “outrageous onslaught” against Palestinians, especially in Gaza, the Associated Press reported.
Palestinian U.N. envoy Riyad Mansour and ambassadors representing Arab, Islamic and non-aligned nations say that they expect an urgent council meeting to be held very soon. They spoke to reporters after meeting the Security Council president.
“We want the Security Council to shoulder its responsibility and stop this aggression against our people,” Mansour said.
He urged the council to adopt a presidential statement or a resolution to protect the Palestinian people and hold those responsible for the attacks accountable.
This will likely prove difficult because of deep divisions in the council, including the strong U.S. support for Israel.
Germany, France slam rocket attacks
German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday condemned rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza in a telephone call with Netanyahu, a government spokeswoman said.
“The chancellor today telephoned Mr. Netanyahu and condemned without reservation rocket fire on Israel,” she said.
“There is no justification” for such attacks, Merkel told Netanyahu, according to the spokeswoman.
Meanwhile, the French President Francois Hollande also telephoned Netanyahu on Wednesday to condemn the rocket attacks.
Hollande “expressed France’s solidarity (with Israel) in the face of rocket fire from Gaza” and told Netanyahu “that France strongly condemns these aggressions,” said a statement from the French presidency.
Hollande also said that it was up to Israel “to take all measures to protect its population in the face of threats” but reminded the Israeli premier “of the need to prevent an escalation of violence.”
Israel warplanes have so far hit 550 targets in Gaza, and Hamas militants have hit back with 165 rockets, some of which struck Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and as far away as Hadera, 116 kilometers (72 miles) to the north of the coastal enclave.
Palestinian fatalities include militants but also women and children. More than 370 people have been wounded.
[With Associated Press, Reuters and AFP]