The Israeli army gave Gaza City residents leaflets ordering them to evacuate “immediately,” heightening fears that a ground invasion might be imminent.
The orders came after an Israeli air strike on Gaza killed at least five people on Tuesday, as a delegation of Arab ministers arrived in the territory, the Hamas health ministry said.
“Five people were killed and two others wounded in an Israeli air strike on the Sabra neighborhood,” health ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra told AFP.
However, Egypt’s President Mohammed Mursi said Israel’s “aggression” against Gaza will end on Tuesday and Cairo-mediated efforts will produce “positive results” within hours, the official MENA news agency reported.
“The farce of the Israeli aggression will end today, Tuesday, and the efforts to reach a ceasefire between the Palestinians and Israelis will produce positive results within a few hours,” it quoted him as saying.
A Hamas official said chief Khaled Meshaal and his negotiators were currently in a meeting with the intelligence chief. “But it’s no secret we’re on the verge of an agreement,” he said.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will leave Asia on Tuesday to visit Israel, Egypt and Ramallah, stepping up U.S. efforts to avoid a worsening of the Gaza crisis, an official said.
Clinton will meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and discuss the crisis with Egyptian and Palestinian leaders, after leaving President Barack Obama’s trip to Southeast Asia, said senior Obama aide Ben Rhodes.
Obama made the decision to send Clinton after speaking to Netanyahu and twice to Mursi, after leaving East Asia summit meetings on Monday night, said Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser.
News of Clinton’s trip came as Israeli leaders Tuesday discussed an Egyptian plan for a truce with Gaza’s ruling Hamas militant group, and after the death toll from Israeli raids on the enclave rose to more than 100.
Senior Israeli ministers decided overnight to delay any ground invasion of the Gaza Strip to give Egyptian-led truce efforts a chance to work.
Palestinian officials said Clinton would visit Ramallah in the West Bank on Wednesday morning for talks with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.
Palestinian rockets reach Jerusalem
Despite efforts to bring an effective truce between Israelis and Palestinians, a Palestinian rocket struck the outskirts of Jerusalem on Tuesday, landing harmlessly in an open area in one of the longest rocket strikes fired from the Gaza Strip in nearly a week of fighting.
The rocket attack, the second aimed at the holy city since an Israeli offensive began a week ago, set off air raid sirens throughout the metropolis. A distant explosion could be heard in the city’s downtown. Jerusalem residents ran for cover as buses and trains stopped to let passengers off.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the rocket landed in Gush Etzion, a collection of Jewish West Bank settlements southeast of the city. Last Friday’s attempt to hit Jerusalem landed in the same area. No one was wounded in either attack.
Jerusalem, nearly 80 kilometers (50 miles) from Gaza, is the most distant city the militants have targeted, signaling an increasing sophistication in their arsenal.
Tuesday’s rocket attack occurred as diplomats were trying to work out a cease-fire. Israeli officials estimate that Gaza’s Hamas rulers will try to stage similar attacks ahead of any truce taking hold.
The attacks aimed at Jerusalem and the Tel Aviv area have dramatically showcased the militants’ new capabilities, including a locally made M-75 rocket that appears to have taken Israeli defense officials by surprise.
Both areas had remained outside the gunmen’s reach in past rounds of fighting, and their use dramatically escalated the hostilities. For more than a decade, the militants’ range had been limited to steadily broadening sections of southern Israel.
The attack on Jerusalem was especially audacious, both for its symbolism and its distance from Gaza. Jerusalem had previously been considered beyond the range of Gaza rockets – and an unlikely target because it is home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, Islam’s third-holiest shrine.
U.N. human rights chief
The U.N.’s human rights chief pressed Israel on Tuesday to avoid strikes on civilian structures in Gaza, and UNICEF said children in the enclave were showing signs of severe trauma after direct hits on dwellings that have killed dozens of civilians.
The International Committee of the Red Cross also reminded both parties – Israel and the Islamist Hamas movement – to the week-old conflict of their obligation to comply with humanitarian law to minimize civilian casualties.
At least 57 Palestinian civilians, including 18 children, are confirmed
as having been killed, according to U.N. monitors who say the death toll had doubled in the past 48 hours. Ten more people were killed overnight but it was unclear how many were civilians, U.N. rights spokesman Rupert Colville said.