Israeli official: 'We would prefer a diplomatic solution'


Calls for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas are increasing after six days of fighting, with the UN Secretary General arriving in Egypt on Monday evening to encourage a resolution to the conflict.

Rockets have continued to rain down on Israel throughout Monday, with one of the 95 sent today falling on a school in Ashkelon, while an IDF strike on Hamas' media centre reportedly killed a senior Islamic Jihad leader. At least 100 Palestinians, nearly half of them identified as terrorists, are now thought to have died in the fighting. Several Israelis have sustained injuries in the rocket fire, after three people were killed by a rocket in Kiryat Malachai on Thursday.

An Israeli official who spoke to Reuters would not comment on the Egypt-led efforts to hammer out a ceasefire deal, but he said: "We would prefer to see a diplomatic solution that would guarantee the peace for Israel's population in the south. If that is possible, then a ground operation would no longer be required.

"If diplomacy fails, we may well have no alternative but to send in ground forces."

Hisham Kandil, the Egyptian Prime Minister, suggested a ceasefire could emerge. "I think we are close, but the nature of this kind of negotiation, (means) it is very difficult to predict," he said today.

Ban Ki-moon is due to go to Jerusalem and Ramallah tomorrow and meet both Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. Tony Blair, in his capacity as Quartet envoy, is also in the region holding discussions.

The European Union Foreign Affairs Council urged all attacks to end immediately "as they cause unjustifiable suffering of innocent civilians" and called for an urgent deescalation and cessation of hostilities.

In a statement, they also said there could be no justification for Hamas' deliberate attacks and backed Israel's right to protect its population.

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