Gaza City – Israel mobilised 16,000 additional reservists Thursday to bolster forces fighting in Gaza as Washington gave its ally the go-ahead to raid stocks of emergency US weapons stored on Israeli soil.
The call-up, which raised the total number of Israeli reservists to 86,000, came shortly after Washington said it had agreed to restock Israel’s dwindling supplies of ammunition, despite rising concern over the death toll in Gaza, where more than 1,360 people have been killed.
It also came after the UN and the US sharply condemned the shelling of a UN school in Gaza, which killed 16 people and wounded scores, in an attack blamed on Israel.
Despite rising international calls for a halt to the bloodshed, the Israeli security cabinet decided Wednesday to press on with the operation in Gaza just hours after troops had made a significant advance into the narrow enclave.
And the full cabinet was being briefed on the progress of the military operation on Wednesday morning in its first meeting since Israel sent ground troops in to Gaza on July 17, officials said.
Major General Sami Turgeman, head of the army’s southern command, said troops were “just days” away from completing a mission to destroy a network of tunnels used by militants for infiltrating southern Israel, media reports said .
At least 111 Palestinians were killed in Gaza on Wednesday, among them 17 who died in an Israeli strike on a crowded market place in the battered Shejaiya district as Israel observed a four-hour humanitarian lull in other parts of the crowded coastal strip.
Earlier, 16 people were killed when at least two shells slammed into a UN school in Jabaliya refugee camp which was sheltering some 3,300 homeless Gazans, drawing a furious response from the United Nations.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon described the shelling as “reprehensible” saying those responsible should be held accountable.
The attack was also denounced by the White House in a carefully worded statement that avoided mentioning Israel.
Shortly afterwards, the Pentagon said it had granted an Israeli request for ammunition, including some from a stockpile stored by the US military on the ground in Israel for emergency use by the Jewish state.
Rights group Amnesty International had urged Washington to halt arms supplies to Israel.
“It is time for the US government to urgently suspend arms transfers to Israel and to push for a UN arms embargo on all parties to the conflict,” it said in a petition to US Secretary of State John Kerry.
Meanwhile, there was no letup in bloodshed with at least eight Palestinians killed on Thursday, among them a woman who died in a shelling in the southern city of Rafah, raising the overall Palestinian toll to 1,369, medics said.
Warplanes also attacked a mosque near the UN school in Jabaliya, wounding 15.
In Israel, 56 soldiers have died and Hamas rocket fire has killed three civilians, two Israelis and a Thai national.
– Israeli team in Cairo –
Despite the loss of life, there appeared to be little Israeli appetite for a truce, with a senior official telling Haaretz newspaper that the Jewish state was not even close to a ceasefire.
“When a ceasefire proposal that answers Israel’s important needs is laid on the table, it will be considered,” he said, warning that the military operation would be stepped up.
“The (military) will expand attacks against Hamas and the rest of the terror organisations.”
Nevertheless, an Israeli delegation travelled to Cairo late Wednesday to discuss a possible ceasefire with Egyptian officials, an official at the airport told AFP.
The delegation included Netanyahu’s adviser Isaac Molho, Yoram Cohen who heads the Shin Bet internal security service and senior defence official Amos Gilad, Haaretz newspaper reported.
They met with senior Egyptian intelligence officials and discussed Cairo’s ongoing talks with representatives of the Gaza factions as well as with the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah, it said.
Cairo, a key mediator in previous truce negotiations between Israel and Hamas, was also expected to host a Palestinian delegation later this week.