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Israel-Palestine Live Coverage: Air Assault on Gaza Expands --- Ground War Next?

Israeli soldiers on the border look down on the Gaza Strip (Photo: Ronen Zvulon/Reuters)

See also Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Insurgents Change the Situation on the Ground
Friday's Israel-Palestine Live Coverage: The Conflict Escalates from Gaza to Tel Aviv

2144 GMT: The Israeli Prime Minister's Office has denied reports that a Government representative was sent to Cairo to conduct ceasefire talks.

2107 GMT: At a joint press conference with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi has said, "There are some indications that there could be a ceasefire soon." However, he added that there are "no guarantees" of a halt to fighting.

A Haaretz journalist downplays the possibility:

2057 GMT: Arab League Secretary-General Nabil El Araby and the Foreign Ministers of Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Algeria, and the Palestinian Authority have announced they will be going to Gaza tomorrow.

1949 GMT: The latest on casualties:

Amateur video captures the fiery moment of an Israeli airstrike on a residential area:

1947 GMT: Hamas's military wing, the Al-Qassam Brigades, have tweeted that they will hold an "important press conference" on the current situation in Gaza. Some are speculating this will be to announce the outcome of the talks in Cairo.

1918 GMT: Haaretz reports of "police plans to hold a sweep for Palestinians illegally residing in Israel on Sunday due to security concerns".

1904 GMT: AFP reports on the cyber attacks being conducted against Israel by hacker group Anonymous in solidarity with the people of Gaza:

The hackers said their operation "OpIsrael" had either damaged or completely erased the sites of more than 650 private and public institutions that included the Bank of Jerusalem -- one of the country's main finance houses.

"Bank of Jerusalem database has been deleted," the group said in a tweet next to a link to the lender's non-functioning website.

It also claimed to have briefly downed the foreign ministry website in protest over an alleged Israeli threat to cut the Gaza Strip's Internet communications.

1857 GMT: Back to the war talk. Haaretz reports on bellicose comments by Israel's Interior Minister Eli Yishai:

The goal of the operation is to send Gaza back to the Middle Ages. Only then will Israel be calm for forty years.

They also quote comments by the Commander of the IDF Southern Command Tal Russo:

We are going to hit Hamas and all other Gaza terrorist organizations until we destroy Gaza's weapons arsenal and life returns to normal in Israel. We devastated their long range weapons arsenal, but there is still a lot of work left.

1833 GMT: Amidst the tension and violence, two small signs that a ceasefire may be possible:

Reuters journalist Noah Browning:

AP journalist Lauren Bohn:

1829 GMT: Activist and writer Elizabeth Tsurkov shares a picture from an anti-war protest in Tel Aviv. Signs at the protest reportedly read, "Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies" and "Social justice demands peace":

1759 GMT: Jordan's King Abdullah, facing a political crisis at home, has called for "urgent humanitarian aid" to Gaza. Al-Jazeera English reports:

The Jordanian Hashemite Charity Organisation was instructed to "send urgent humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people in Gaza who are facing suffering and difficult living conditions due to Israeli attacks," the royal palace said.

King Abdullah also called for the adoption of "urgent procedures needed to ... support the Jordanian military field hospital currently working in the Gaza Strip," the statement said.

The palace said the measures were aimed at providing "all the necessary medical care to children of the brotherly Palestinian people ... in view of the difficult circumstances in the face of Israeli aggression".

1745 GMT: Qatar will give Egypt $10 million to help treat injured residents of Gaza, according to a report in state media. Qatar will also deliver emergency medical aid to Gaza. The Emir of Qatar and Qatar's foreign secretary are currently in Cairo for talks on the situation.

1733 GMT: BBC journalist Rushdi Abualouf reports news of a possible ceasefire being made by Turkey:

1724 GMT: Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the head of the Iranian Parliament's National Security Committee, has denied that Iran supplied Fajr 5 rockets to Gazan fighters.

"We deny having delivered the Fajr 5 to the Palestinian resistance. The aim of such accusations is to portray the resistance as weak whereas it is perfectly capable of producing the arms it needs," Boroujerdi said.

Gazan groups such as Islamic Jihad have claimed Fajr 5s have been fired at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, the first attacks on those cities since the 1991 Gulf War.

(Cross-posted from todays Iran Live coverage.)

1715 GMT: Journalist Alaa Bayoumi reports the following strong words by Qatar's Foreign Minister from the Arab league meeting in Egypt:

I want to speak frankly about what is going now. Our meetings are a waste of public money and time. They are now wolves. But, many of us are becoming sheep.

Our brothers in Palestinian need clarity form us. We should not give them empty promises. We as Arabs did not fulfil our pledges to Gaza. We have taken our part in besieging them. We need to support Egypt in its new position/policy.

There is an Arab awakening and Arab policies are changing. We now need a new and clear policy. [The] peace process is not moving forward. The International Quartet is not moving forward.

A statement from us will not mean anything. We need to do something on the ground. I am not talking about war. I know our limits as Arabs. We can at least help with humanitarian situation.

No Arab or non Arab should misuse us. We should all agree on a strategy and stick to it.

The Emir of Qatar will later be part of talks on the crisis in Gaza with Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, Egyptian President Morsi and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal.

1704 GMT: Haaretz, citing "senior Egyptian officials", claims that Egyptian Intelligence Minister Rafat Shehata is leading "intense efforts" to broker a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas:

Shehata has been conducting meetings in the Egyptian capital with the head of Hamas' politburo Khaled Meshal and his deputy Moussa Abu Marzuk. According to the sources, Egyptian intelligence hopes to achieve agreement on a ceasefire that could go into effect within the next 24-48 hours.

It was not yet clear what the principles of this ceasefire would be, but it's possible that Egypt will agree to a gesture toward Hamas by lifting some of the limitations it places on the entrance of goods through the Rafah crossing.

1654 GMT:

The Lebanese Foreign Affairs Minister Adnan Mansour has been speaking in Cairo at a meeting of Arab league foreign ministers. Lebanon's LBC News reports him as saying:

We should prove to the world that Israeli actions in Gaza will not go unpunished. [We should] withdraw ambassadors from Israel, cut off ties, end normalization and abolish bilateral agreements.

Before departing for Cairo, Mansour was quoted by the National News Agency as saying that "Arabs must take a common stand in the face of Israeli aggression," and calling for "Arab intervention on the side of Hamas.

1617 GMT: AFP's take-away line from Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's speech at Cairo University (see 1555 GMT): "Everyone must know that sooner or later there will be a holding to account for the massacre of these innocent children killed inhumanely in Gaza."

Menawhile, the White House has told the press that President Obama called Erdogan to discuss how both nations can help to broker an end to the escalating violence. Ben Rhodes, the Deputy National Security Advisor said the US "wants the same thing as the Israelis want" --- an end to rocket attacks from Gaza.

1615 GMT: Journalist Rebecca Collard tweets a picture, taken just over an hour ago, of youths setting a fire by Qalindya checkpoint in the West Bank:

Residents of Ramallah have to pass the checkpoint to leave the city.

At a protest in Ramallah yesterday, Haaretz journalist Amira Hass noted tensions in the city between supporters of Hamas and Fatah:

When Israel bombs the Gaza Strip and threatens the lives of top Hamas officials, the Palestinian Authority’s security forces dare not prevent the group's members in the West Bank from demonstrating on Ramallah's streets. Hundreds of Hamas members marched from Ramallah’s main mosque after Friday prayers to Al-Manara Square in the heart of the city.

This wasn't just a show of strength by Hamas, it was a show of weakness by the groups making up the Palestine Liberation Organization, headed by Fatah. The few PLO members who took part in the rally were outnumbered by Hamas people, and when Fatah supporters – probably members of the security forces in civilian clothes – tried to shout out slogans advocating Palestinian unity, they were drowned out by the Hamas protesters, yelling the name of their organization.

The yellow Fatah flags languished in the sea of Hamas green. A handful of secular women, originally from Gaza, also attended the rally. But feeling out of place, they said the Israeli assault on Gaza was being portrayed as an attack on Hamas rather than an attack on all Gazans.

1555 GMT: Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan has been speaking at the University of Cairo ahead of his meeting with Egyptian President Morsi, the Emir of Qatar, andHamas leader Khaled Meshaal.

Ghanem Nuseibeh has been live-tweeting the speech, which he describes as "the most regionally significant speech of [Erdogan's] career (and of any Turkish leader in living memory)". According to Nuseibeh's account, Erdogan called for "unity" between Egypt and Turkey as the only way to stop regional bloodshed, commending President Morsi for recalling the Egyptian Ambassador to Israel. He added, "You speak in Arabic, we speak in Turkish, but we speak the same thoughts and principles of the Quran". In an apparent reference to Palestine, Erdogan said "We are the owners of the land and will not surrender".

Turkish journalist Mehmet Solmaz was also present at the speech and live-tweeted additional comments by Erdogan:

Be sure that the hearts of Turkish youth were with their brothers in Tahrir Sq in the revolution. ... The Arab revolution is a sign of returning back to our roots. ... Dear brothers, the struggle of our Syrian brothers is legitimate and the bloody Assad regime is confined to fall. ... We want justice at the UN. [The] whole world looks at the words of 5 permanant members of UN. This hypocricy should end.

Erdogan concluded the speech saying, "Oh Egypt, Oh mother of the world, keep your head high, you are Egyptian."

1537 GMT: Summarising the news of the last hour....

The Al Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, fired two rockets --- they say Iranian-made Fajr 5s; the Israeli Defense Forces say Gaza-made --- towards Tel Aviv.

One rocket was intercepted by Israel's 5th Iron Dome anti-missile system, deployed only yesterday. The other rocket landed with no damage.

The interception was broadcast live on Israel's Channel 10.

The spokeswoman for the Israel Defense Forces celebrates:

1530 GMT: According to an Al-Jazeera English reporter, the Israeli army have claimed that the rockets fired at Tel Aviv were "locally-made in Gaza", countering the claim by Hamas' Al-Qassam Brigades that they were Irania- made Fajr 5 rockets.

1528 GMT: The Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti has called on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to broker a truce, reports Al-Jazeera English. Speaking to Netanyahu earlier today by phone, Monti "expressed extreme concern over the continued violence", calling for:

A truce between the parties as soon as possible, to bring to an end the fighting and allow dialogue and peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians to begin again.

1502 GMT: For the third consecutive day, air raid sirens have sounded in Tel Aviv:

CNN journalist Miguel Marquez reports that Hamas' Al-Qassam Brigades have claimed they fired a Fajr 5 rocket toward Tel Aviv, according to Hamas funded Al-Aqsa television.

1335 GMT: Maan News Agency posts the names of the 40 Gazans,, including six children, who have been killed since Wednesday.

1329 GMT: Yesterday, a jihadist group in the Egyptian Sinai claimed responsibility for rockets fired into Israel on Wednesday. Al Shorouk newspaper has shared a video, reportedly by the group Shura El Mujahadeen, claiming to show the launch of the rockets (h/t Egyptian Chronicles):

(Cross-posted from Syria and Beyond Live Coverage)

1325 GMT: University student Assaf Farhadian speaks to camera during an air raid alert in Beersheba in southern Israel:

1305 GMT: Maan News Agency reports that Muhammad Yasin has died of wounds sustained in an airstrike on the Zaytoun neighbourhood of Gaza City, bringing the death toll among Gazans to 40 since Wednesday.

1245 GMT: The meeting to watch today may be in Cairo, where Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi is hosting Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani, and Hamas political director Khaled Meshaal.

A source from Palestine said Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas might also attend.

1125 GMT: After a meeting in Israel Defense Forces headquarters, Chief of Staff Benny Gantz has instructed the air force to "intensify" attacks on Gaza.

1015 GMT: Tunisian Foreign Minister Rafik Abdessalem, on his visit to Gaza today, has called for "an end to the assault and aggression": "We are adamant to continue to support and provide assistance to our fellow citizens in Gaza."

Abdessalem, expressing "solidarity" with Palestinians, said he hoped his short visit will "carry political significance" that will "yield practical measures on the ground" leading to an end of the crisis.

A photograph of Abdessalem's visit to the destroyed Prime Minister's building, hit overnight by an Israeli airstrike (Photo: Reuters):

0859 GMT: The Israel Defense Forces have deployed the country's fifth "Iron Dome" anti-missile system near Tel Aviv.

The battery was scheduled for operations in early 2013, but this week's rocket strikes near Tel Aviv hastened its introduction.

0855 GMT: Tunisian Foreign Minister Rafik Abdessalem has entered Gaza via the Rafah crossing and is en route to Gaza City.

Abdessalam would have been received at the Cabinet building, where Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Qandil met Hamas officials yesterday, but it was destroyed overnight in an Israeli airstrike.

0851 GMT: The destroyed Prime Minister's office:

0844 GMT: Three Israelis have been wounded by a rocket on the Eshkol Regional Council.

0816 GMT: Earlier this week, peace activist Gershon Baskin revealed in Haaretz that Ahmed al-Jabari, the military commander whose assassination by Israeli airstrike on Wednesday launched the current conflict, was working with West Jerusalem on a long-term truce agreement.

Now Baskin writes in The New York Times:

I believe that Israel made a grave and irresponsible strategic error by deciding to kill Mr. Jabari. No, Mr. Jabari was not a man of peace; he didn’t believe in peace with Israel and refused to have any direct contact with Israeli leaders and even nonofficials like me. My indirect dealings with Mr. Jabari were handled through my Hamas counterpart, Ghazi Hamad, the deputy foreign minister of Hamas, who had received Mr. Jabari’s authorization to deal directly with me....

Passing messages between the two sides, I was able to learn firsthand that Mr. Jabari wasn’t just interested in a long-term cease-fire; he was also the person responsible for enforcing previous cease-fire understandings brokered by the Egyptian intelligence agency. Mr. Jabari enforced those cease-fires only after confirming that Israel was prepared to stop its attacks on Gaza. On the morning that he was killed, Mr. Jabari received a draft proposal for an extended cease-fire with Israel, including mechanisms that would verify intentions and ensure compliance. This draft was agreed upon by me and Hamas’s deputy foreign minister, Mr. Hamad, when we met last week in Egypt.

0802 GMT: Al Jazeera English reports that eight Gazans have been killed in the last 90 minutes, three in the Maghazi camp in central Gaza and five in Rafah.

A Palestinian security source said the three dead in the Maghazi camp were fighters from the armed wing of Hamas, the Al-Qassam Brigades.

The five casualties in Rafah were reportedly among a crowd hit by fire from an Israeli drone.

As Jacky Rowland delivers the Al Jazeera English report, the sounds of Israeli drones can be heard in the background.

0756 GMT: In the latest reports of Gazan rocket fire, Israeli officials say an Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepted two fired toward Beerssheba and Ofaqim, while five exploded in Eshkol Regional Council and one exploded in Sha'ar Hanegev Regional Council.

0753 GMT: An eyewitness report this morning on the Israeli airstrikes, including the destruction of the Cabinet building in Gaza City:

0618 GMT: While Hamas' military wing tried to seize headlines on Friday with the firing of rockets at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, the main story was the Israeli air campaign, with 180 overnight strikes. Targets included Government and security compounds, tunnels, and the electricity network as well as claimed weapons facilities and rocket-launching sites.

The assault had already destroyed the Ministry of Interior and a Cabinet building, and the Gaza City police headquarters was struck overnight, setting off a large fire that engulfed nearby houses and cars. Israel has now carried out more than 800 air attacks, while the Israeli military said more than 500 Gazan rockets have been fired at Israel.

Thirty Palestinians have been killed, including 12 on Friday, since the conflict escalated on Wednesday. Three Israelis were slain in a rocket attack on Thursday.

Attention may now turn, especially if the Israeli aerial assault does not break Hamas, to a ground invasion. On Friday night, the Israeli Government authorised the call-up of up to 75,000 reservists, more than four times the number mobilised during Israel's Operation Cast Lead against Gaza in 2008/9.

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