US President Barack Obama has spoken with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and stressed the need for an immediate and sustainable ceasefire in the raging Gaza conflict.
Both the Israelis and Hamas exchanged strike and counter-strike on day 20 of the war, as world leaders pushed for an elusive ceasefire.
In a statement, the White House said Obama “made clear the strategic imperative of instituting an immediate, unconditional humanitarian ceasefire that ends hostilities now and leads to a permanent cessation of hostilities based on the November 2012 ceasefire agreement” brokered by Egypt.
Obama “reaffirmed Israel’s right to defend itself” and stressed the need to “ensure the disarmament of terrorist groups and the demilitarisation of Gaza,” while reiterating “serious and growing concern about the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths and the loss of Israeli lives,” the statement read.
Israeli media, meanwhile, says Netanyahu’s security cabinet is holding a meeting extending from Sunday evening into the early hours of Monday to discuss the next steps.
Earlier, fighting renewed apace, as Israel pounded Gaza with aerial, naval and artillery bombardments after a night of rocket fire from Hamas.
The two sides had observed a 12-hour humanitarian pause on Saturday, giving medics a chance to pull bodies from rubble they had not been able to reach under fire.
But Hamas rocket fire prompted Israel to abandon an extension of that truce on Sunday, and subsequent Hamas calls for another ceasefire were ignored by both sides, as world leaders pushed for a permanent cessation of hostilities.
Neither side has agreed to the truce demands of the other, in a conflict that has killed more than 1,030 Palestinians, 43 Israeli soldiers and three civilians inside Israel.
A controversial incident on Thursday – when a UN school acting as a shelter was shelled, killing 15 people – drew fierce condemnation from Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA.
The Israeli army confirmed on Sunday it had hit the school, but said it was a “single errant mortar” round, denying that people were killed “as a result of (army) operational activity”.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif engaged in a round of telephone diplomacy late on Sunday to rally support and humanitarian aid for Palestinians in Gaza.
He spoke with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and regional leaders, stressing that the priority was to get food and medical aid into areas worst hit by Israel’s military offensive.
Meanwhile US Secretary of State John Kerry was still working for Israel and Hamas to agree to further halts in the bloodshed ahead of hoped for Egypt-led peace talks, a US official said.
Israel rejected a Kerry-proposed ceasefire earlier in the week, and Hamas has resisted truce efforts by Cairo, which has made an enemy of the Palestinian Islamist group that is allied to the Muslim Brotherhood that Egypt has designated a “terrorist” organisation.
Israel insists it will continue its mission to destroy Hamas tunnels used to launch attacks on the Jewish state, and Hamas wants a lifting of the crippling Gaza blockade that has been in place for eight years.