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Israel Gaza strikes kill 4 as EU makes UN truce push

Israeli air strikes killed four Palestinians in Gaza on Friday (Aug 22) as European governments sought UN action to end more than six weeks of bloodshed. 

GAZA CITY: Israeli air strikes killed four Palestinians in Gaza on Friday (Aug 22) as European governments sought UN action to end more than six weeks of bloodshed. Fighting flared anew on Tuesday as Egyptian-brokered truce efforts collapsed, with Israel insistent on its demand for security from rocket fire by Gaza militants, and Hamas defiant over its call for an end to eight years of Israeli blockade.

The death toll since Jul 8 now stands at at least 2,087 Palestinians dead, three-quarters of them civilians according to the United Nations, and 67 on the Israeli side, nearly all of them soldiers. Two men aged 22 and 24 were killed in a strike on Nusseirat refugee camp early on Friday, emergency services said. Two more were killed in an air raid near neighbouring Deir al-Balah. The Israeli military said it struck around 20 targets overnight but did not give details.

Israeli media said the government was seeking US diplomatic help to head off the European bid at the United Nations to end the violence, the deadliest since the 2005 end of the second Palestinian intifada or uprising.

Washington has wielded its veto powers at the UN Security Council repeatedly in the past on behalf of its Israeli ally. But relations have been strained over the breakdown of US-brokered peace efforts and concerns over the scale of the civilian death toll in Gaza.

The draft presented by Britain, France and Germany came after one submitted by Jordan on behalf of the Arab League had run into US opposition. The European text urged an immediate and sustainable ceasefire, and a lifting of the Israeli blockade. It proposed a mechanism to monitor the ceasefire and supervise the movement of goods into Gaza to allay Israeli security concerns.

It also called for Gaza's return to the control of the Western-backed Palestinian Authority led by president Mahmud Abbas, seven years after his loyalists were driven out of the territory by the Islamists of Hams. The text provides for the lifting of economic and humanitarian restrictions on Gaza to allow for a massive reconstruction effort.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon has pledged help to rebuild Gaza but warned that it would be "for the last time" after three wars in six years. But as the diplomatic pressure for a ceasefire intensified, Israel showed no sign of ending its deadly campaign to halt rocket fire by Gaza militants.

The security cabinet authorised the call-up of up to 10,000 army reservists in a new troop rotation, Israeli media reported. Finance Minister Yair Lapid, regarded as one of the less hawkish members of the security cabinet, threatened further deadly attacks on Hamas commanders after three leading militants were killed in a pre-dawn strike on Thursday.

"Hamas leaders need to know that we shall not stop now," he said in remarks broadcast Friday by public radio. "Each and every one of them - the political wing, the military wing, abroad or in Gaza itself - needs to know that he is a legitimate target for assassination as long as they continue... to threaten Israeli citizens," Lapid said.

Palestinian mourners attend the funeral of three senior Hamas commanders in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah on Aug 21, 2014. (AFP/Said Khatib)

Thursday's strike came just 36 hours after Israel tried to assassinate Hamas military chief Mohammed Deif, who has topped its most wanted list for more than a decade. That attack levelled a six-storey building in Gaza City, killing two women and three children, among them Deif's wife, his infant son and three-year-old daughter. Hamas said Deif himself was safe, although there was no evidence and the Israeli military refused to comment.

Hamas said Wednesday that its participation in truce efforts was over. But its exiled leadership took part in a previously scheduled meeting with the Palestinian president on Thursday that was joined by both sides' representatives in the Palestinian delegation to the abortive Cairo negotiations. 

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