* Egyptian PM's brought truce feelers
* Temporary ceasefire broken immediately
* Signs of preparations for possible invasion
* Tel Aviv shaken by new rocket scare
By Nidal al-Mughrabi
GAZA, Nov 16 Egypt tried to open a tiny window
to emergency peace diplomacy in Gaza on Friday, but hopes for
even a brief ceasefire while its prime minister was inside the
bombarded enclave to talk to leaders of the Islamist Hamas
movement were immediately dashed.
Prime Minister Hisham Kandil visited the Gaza Strip
officially to show solidarity with the Palestinian people after
two days of relentless attacks by Israeli warplanes determined
to end militant rocket fire at Israel.
A Palestinian official close to Egypt's mediators told
Reuters Kandil's visit "was the beginning of a process to
explore the possibility of reaching a truce. It is early to
speak of any details or of how things will evolve".
Israel undertook to cease fire during the visit if Hamas did
too. But it said rockets fired from Gaza hit several sites in
southern Israel as he was in the enclave and has begun drafting
16,000 reserve troops, a possible precursor to invasion.
Tanks and self-propelled guns were seen near the border area
of Friday and sirens sounded again over Tel Aviv, after
witnesses in Gaza saw a long-range rocket launched. Israeli
police said it landed in the sea off Israel's commercial centre.
A Hamas source said the Israeli air force launched an attack
on the house of Hamas's commander for southern Gaza which
resulted in the death of two civilians, one a child.
Israel's military strongly denied carrying out any attack
from the time Kandil entered Gaza, and accused Hamas of
violating the three-hour deal.
"Even though about 50 rockets have fallen in Israel over the
past two hours, we chose not to attack in Gaza due to the visit
of the Egyptian prime minister. Hamas is lying and reporting
otherwise," the army said in a Twitter message.
Kandil said: "Egypt will spare no effort ... to stop the
aggression and to achieve a truce."
At a Gaza hospital he held the bloodied body of a child. He
left the Gaza Strip after meeting with Hamas leader Ismail
Haniyeh, the enclave's prime minister.
Palestinian medics said two people were killed in the
disputed explosion at the house, one of them a child. It raised
the Palestinian death toll since Wednesday to 22. Three Israelis
were killed by a rocket on Thursday.
The Palestinian dead include eight militants and 14
civilians, among them seven children and a pregnant woman. A
Hamas rocket killed three Israeli civilians in a town north of
Gaza, men and women in their 30s, hitting their apartment.
GERMANY BLAMES HAMAS
The Gaza conflagration has stoked the flames of a Middle
East ablaze with two years of Arab revolution and a civil war in
Syria that threatens to engulf the whole region.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel called on Egypt to use its
influence on Hamas to bring the violence to an end, her
spokesman said, adding that Israel had the "right and
obligation" to protect its population.
"Hamas in Gaza is responsible for the outbreak of violence,"
Merkel's spokesman Georg Streiter told a news conference.
"There is no justification for the shooting of rockets at
Israel, which has led to massive suffering of the civilian
Chief Palestinian peace negotiator Saeb Erekat, whose
efforts to achieve a treaty with Israel are scorned by Hamas as
treason, said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's "efforts are
focused on one thing: deescalate the violence and save lives in
Gaza. That's what we're hoping for."
"No amount of pressure can stop our efforts at the United
Nations" to obtain a General Assembly vote at the end of the
month granting observer status to the Palestinian territories,
including the Gaza Strip, West Bank and East Jerusalem, he said.
Hamas rejects the diplomacy of Abbas outright. But Erekat
said: "It is our brothers' and sisters' blood. This is no time
for internal squabbles or pointing fingers."
Air raid sirens wailed over Tel Aviv on Thursday evening,
sending residents rushing for shelter, and two long-range
rockets exploded just south of the metropolis. The location of
the impacts was not disclosed.
They exploded harmlessly, police said. But they shook the 40
percent of Israelis who, until now, lived in safety beyond range
of the southern rocket zone.
"Even Prime Minister (Benjamin) Netanyahu was rushed into a
reinforced room," said cabinet minister Gilad Eldan.
Just as in late 2008, Israel's demands that Hamas and other
militants stop firing rockets at southern towns appeared to be
being ignored, and the fire was increasing.
The last Gaza war, involving a three-week long Israeli air
blitz and ground invasion over the New Year period of 2008-2009,
left more than 1,400 Palestinians dead, mostly civilian, and
killed 13 Israelis.
"If Hamas says it understands the message and commits to a
long ceasefire, via the Egyptians or anyone else, this is what
we want. We want quiet in the south and a stronger deterrence,"
Israeli vice prime minister Moshe Yaalon said.
"The Egyptians have been a pipeline for passing messages.
Hamas always turns (to them) to request a ceasefire. We are in
contact with the Egyptian defence ministry. And it could be a
channel in which a ceasefire is reached," he told Israeli radio.
Tunisia's foreign minister was due to visit Gaza on Saturday
"to provide all political support for Gaza" the spokesman for
the Tunisian president, Moncef Marzouki, said in a statement.
On Israel's side of the border there were signs of possible
preparations for a ground assault on Gaza. In pre-dawn strikes,
warplanes bombed open land along the fence, in what could be a
softening-up stage to clear the way for tanks.
The United States asked countries that have contact with
Hamas to urge the Islamist movement to stop its rocket attacks.
EGYPT ON THE SPOT
Hamas refuses to recognise Israel's right to exist. By
contrast, Abbas, who rules in the nearby West Bank, does
recognise Israel, but peace talks between the two sides have
been frozen since 2010.
Abbas's supporters say they will push ahead with their plan
to become an "observer state" rather than a mere "entity" at the
United Nations later this month.
Egypt's new Islamist president, Mohamed Mursi, viewed by
Hamas as a protector, led a chorus of denunciation of the
Israeli strikes by allies of the Palestinians.
The conflict poses a test of Mursi's commitment to Egypt's
1979 peace treaty with Israel, which the West views as the
bedrock of Middle East peace.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which brought him to power in an
election after the downfall of pro-Western Hosni Mubarak, has
called for a "Day of Rage" in Arab capitals on Friday.
The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) said they had targeted over
450 "terror activity sites" in the Gaza Strip since Operation
Pillar of Defence began with the assassination of Hamas' top
military commander on Wednesday by an Israeli missile.
Some 150 medium range rocket launching sites and ammunition
dumps were targeted overnight, the IDF said.
"The sites that were targeted were positively identified by
precise intelligence over the course of months," it said. "The
Gaza strip has been turned into a frontal base for Iran, forcing
Israeli citizens to live under unbearable circumstances."