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Israel

Foreign leaders and Iron Dome shield Israel

As the fighting escalated between Israel and Hamas militants on Saturday, Western leaders voiced their support for country's right to defend itself. Meanwhile, Arab leaders met in Cairo to review diplomacy efforts.

On the fourth day of hostilities between Israel and the Gaza Strip, German Chancellor Angela Merkel echoed remarks made by US President Barack Obama on Friday affirming support of the air campaign. Both leaders have maintained that Israel must protect its own population.

Speaking to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the phone, Merkel also stressed the importance of reaching a peace deal.

"A complete cease-fire must be agreed as soon as possible to avoid further bloodshed," she said, according to German government spokesman Georg Streiter.

Like Obama, Merkel also said she supports Egypt's efforts to diffuse the situation.

During a telephone conference on Saturday, Merkel urged Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, who had visited the Gaza Strip the previous day, to "keep exercising his important role as a mediator and urge the Palestinian groups to cease their attacks against Israel."

Obama spoke with both leaders Friday, taking a similar stance on the conflict.

Arab League re-evaluates diplomacy

Arab foreign ministers, meanwhile, denounced Israel's use of force against its Palestinian neighbors. Though the Arab League delegates meeting in Cairo on Saturday sought a way to stop Israel, they also expressed deep dissatisfaction at unsuccessful peace efforts over the years that had failed to hinder the present crisis.

"[We] should reconsider all past Arab initiatives on the peace process and review their stance towards the process as a whole," League chief Nabil al-Arabi told the foreign ministers, referring to a deal in 2002 that has served as the cornerstone of diplomacy with Israel since. Ten years ago, Arab leaders agreed to recognize the state of Israel in return for its withdrawal from all occupied territory and new steps in the Palestinian refugee crisis.

Al-Arabi reportedly planned to head a delegation to Gaza soon in order "to affirm solidarity with Palestinians," according to a statement issued after Saturday's meeting.

Hamas fires on Tel Aviv

Sirens went off for the third day in Tel Aviv when two rockets fired by Hamas were detected. Israel's anti-missile system, "Iron Dome," set up in the city just hours before the attack, intercepted one of two rockets bound for Tel Aviv on Saturday. The second rocket was not shot down, but did not cause any reported injuries.

Israel, Hamas Exchange Fire for Fourth Day

Israel's death toll stands at three killed from a rocket attack Thursday on a southern town. Friday's rocket firings toward Jerusalem and Tel Aviv caused no casualties but triggered panic in Israel's main population centers, according to police.

Israeli air raids against Gaza claimed over 40 lives on Saturday.

Hamas, which runs Gaza, announced that Israeli warplanes had bombed the office building of its leader, Ismail Haniyeh - where he had just met Egypt's Prime Minister Hisham Kandil on Friday - as well as police headqarters.

Israel's Channel 2 television said the Cabinet had approved the call-up of as many as 75,000 army reservists. The military also announced the closure of highways leading to Gaza, promoting further speculation that Israel might invade the enclave of 1.7 million Palestinians as it did around New Year 2009.

kms/mkg (dpa, AFP, Reuters)

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