Smoke billows after Israeli air strikes Gaza Strip yesterday. Inset, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi meets with US Secretary Hilary Clinton at the presidential palace in Cairo to broker peace in the region. Fighting raged on both sides of Gaza's borders yesterday despite world leaders pushed for a truce to end the bloodshed.Photo: AFP
The Arab League head said the world should focus on ending Israeli occupation instead of seeking a truce in Gaza, on a solidarity mission to the war-torn strip on Tuesday.
"The real problem is not a truce," Nabil al-Arabi told reporters as he led a top-level delegation of 10 Arab ministers on a visit to the territory where Israel has been pressing an intensive aerial campaign which did not let up for the duration of their visit.
"The real problem that the Arab and Islamic countries and all friendly countries in the world must focus on is ending the occupation," the Arab League secretary general said.
The visit came as intense diplomatic efforts edged the two sides closer toward a truce that some militant sources said could be announced in Cairo later on Tuesday.
But Arabi said that nations were losing focus as they focused on ways to avoid escalating violence that has claimed the lives of more than 136 Palestinians and seen hundreds of rockets rain down on southern Israel.
The delegation also visited Gaza City's Shifa hospital and met the survivors of a family which lost eight members during a single deadly missile strike on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday accused Israel of "ethnic cleansing" in Gaza, saying the Jewish state's air raids could not be considered self-defence.
"Israel is committing ethnic cleansing by ignoring peace in this region and violating international law," Erdogan said. "It is occupying the Palestinian territory step by step."
"Sooner or later, Israel will answer for the innocent blood it has shed so far," he said.
Erdogan's words came after Israel halted a threatened Gaza ground operation to give Egyptian-led truce talks a chance.
Sources from the armed Hamas movement and Islamic Jihad both told AFP that a truce would be announced later on Tuesday at a joint press conference with Palestinian factions and Egyptian mediators in Cairo.
But an Egyptian source close to the negotiations was more cautious. "Up to this point there is no final decision," he told AFP by phone from Cairo.
An Israeli diplomatic source also refused to confirm an agreement was in the bag.