The latest word out of Cairo suggests that a third-party brokered ceasefire that would bring an end to the fighting between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza could be near. In the meantime, however, the death toll in Gaza climbs higher still as the Israeli offensive entered its sixth day this morning and reportedly claimed the lives of another 19 Palestinians.
"Negotiations are going on as we speak and I hope we will reach something soon that will stop this violence and counter violence," Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Kandil told Reuters this morning.
According to the local Health Ministry, today's airstrikes pushed the Palestinian death toll to 91, with another 700 said to have been wounded—including roughly 200 children—since the offensive began last week. Israel says its show of military force is meant to stop Hamas from launching rockets at its cities. The Gaza-based militants have fired about 830 rounds of artillery since Wednesday, killing three Israelis and wounding another 79, by Israel's count. Those numbers would likely be higher if not for Israel's Iron Dome defense system, which has intercepted some—but not all—of the missiles that have rained down across the country.
Still, the Palestinian death toll dwarfs that of the Israelis, much as it did three years ago during Israel's last major offensive, which reportedly left 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead.
Among the casualties this time around are a Palestinian mother and her four young children, who were killed along with five other relatives on Sunday when their family home was struck by bombs dropped from an Israeli warplane. The Washington Post with more on the Dallu family, whose deaths are serving as something of a rallying cry on the ground and have, at least during the latest news cycle, put a human face on the conflict for much of the international community:
"They killed the whole family," said Yasser Sallouha, an uncle of the children, looking despondent as he stood near their bodies at the morgue. "The whole family tree is gone. Were the two children launching rockets? I want someone to answer me. They are taking revenge on children."
On Monday, Gazans buried the Dallu family at the hilltop Sheikh Radwan Cemetery in Gaza City amid continued airstrikes. One explosion shook the hill and sent a cloud of gray smoke into the air over nearby buildings. A few elderly men sobbed as men carried the still bloodied bodies of two of the children.
"We want to be martyrs like them," Kamal al-Dallu, 60, a cousin of the family, shouted angrily. He said Gaza is ready for an Israeli ground invasion. "We don’t want war, but we will protect ourselves, and we will fight them," he said.
With the possibility of a ground assault still on the table, foreign leaders are ramping up their efforts to broker an end to the conflict before it escalates any further. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was on his way to Cairo today, where his office says he intends to appeal personally for ending the violence. Still, even the Egyptian officials who have expressed the most optimism that a deal will get done soon concede that there is long way to go. "I think we are close," the prime minister said today, "but the nature of this kind of negotiation (means) it is very difficult to predict."