Both the European Union’s foreign policy chief and foreign ministers of France, Egypt, Germany and Jordan urged a ceasefire to end fighting between Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip, as intensifying violence deterred efforts to reach an understanding Thursday.
The call for a truce came on the third day of fighting that saw prospects for an end to the fighting dim, after the Israeli killings of the head of PIJ’s rocket forces and his deputy, and heavy rocket fire from Gaza that caused the first Israeli fatality of the latest bout of fighting. The escalation began after Israel eliminated three leaders of the terror group early Tuesday, in response to rocket barrages from the Strip last week.
The foreign ministers said they were “deeply alarmed by this new round of violence and the deteriorating security situation in the occupied Palestinian territories and Israel, and ongoing developments in Gaza, which has claimed unacceptable civilian casualties including women and children,” in a joint statement issued after their Munich Group summit in Berlin.
They called for an immediate ceasefire “which will end Israeli military operations in Gaza and indiscriminate rocket fire against Israel. International humanitarian law must be respected.”
They also praised Egypt for its mediation efforts and called on Israel and the Palestinian Authority to implement commitments made at summits in Aqaba in February and in Sharm El-Sheikh in March.
Without naming Israel specifically, they expressed concern over “the growing pressure against Christian and Muslim communities in Jerusalem,” and affirmed Jordan’s “custodianship” over Jerusalem’s holy sites, something Israel has never officially agreed to.
“These latest events illustrate the need to restore a credible political process leading to a comprehensive and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians through a negotiated two-state solution, ensuring an independent, contiguous, viable and sovereign Palestinian State, based on June 4, 1967, lines and consistent with relevant UN Security Council resolutions,” said the ministers.
The European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell also pressed sides to agree to a truce in a statement on Thursday.
“We urge an immediate comprehensive ceasefire which will end Israeli military operations in Gaza and current rocket firing against Israel, which is unacceptable. International humanitarian law must be respected,” Borrell said in a statement.
Reported efforts to reach a ceasefire appeared to hit an obstacle after fighting escalated on Thursday, with an Israeli official telling Channel 13 news that such a deal was off the table after the latest barrages.
Officials earlier said Israel was in talks with Arab countries on a potential ceasefire to end the fighting with PIJ, but denied reports claiming Israel would agree to a number of controversial concessions, such as the halting of targeted killings and return of the body of Khader Adnan, a member of the group who died in Israeli prison earlier this month after an 86-day hunger strike.
His death sparked a brief flareup in violence last week, with Islamic Jihad launching over 100 rockets at Israel. Israel responded to that barrage on Tuesday by launching the latest Gaza operation.
After separate airstrikes on Thursday killed Ali Ghali, the head of the Islamic Jihad rocket forces, and Ahmad Abu Deka, his deputy, terrorists launched a volley of rockets toward central and southern Israel.
One person was killed and at least five others were injured after one of the rockets slammed into an apartment building in the central town of Rehovot.
Several others were treated for injuries and anxiety attacks in southern communities.
The Israel Defense Forces pressed their strikes on PIJ sites throughout Thursday, saying they destroyed an attack tunnel that was dug up to Israel’s security barrier with the Gaza Strip as well as underground rocket launcher sites.
Operation Shield and Arrow, as it is known in the military, was launched early Tuesday with the killing of three top Islamic Jihad commanders.
The terror group responded to the initial strikes in Gaza by firing hundreds of rockets at Israeli communities, causing some material damage across southern Israel.
Rocket attacks on Wednesday caused damage in several southern cities, including Sderot, Ashkelon, Netivot and Beersheba. The rocket fire has reached as far as Tel Aviv.
Over 40 people have sought treatment for wounds suffered as they tried to reach shelter, or because of acute anxiety from nearby impacts.
Security restrictions in southern Israel remained in place, including rules mandating school closures within 40 kilometers (25 miles) of Gaza and limiting outdoor gatherings to no more than 10 people.
At least 28 people in Gaza have been killed since Israel launched the surprise offensive on Tuesday morning, according to the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza, and over 80 more injured. The figure includes both terrorists targeted by Israel and civilians, as well as civilians believed killed by Islamic Jihad rocket misfires, according to Israeli officials.
Israeli officials have insisted that they are keeping the fight limited to Islamic Jihad and not the larger and better-armed Hamas terror group, which rules the Strip, hoping to avoid widening the conflict, while warning that it is prepared to do so if fired upon.