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June 23, 2017

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Israel holds off ground assault as world urges calm

GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories--Israel slowed the pace of its raids on Gaza Monday and held off a threatened ground incursion as the world intensified efforts to broker a truce around the Palestinian territory.

With Israel's campaign to halt cross-border rocket fire entering its seventh day, Arab ministers were poised to hold an emergency meeting to discuss moves to end the bloodshed.

And Jordan's King Abdullah II warned of the dangers the crisis could pose for the wider region, demanding Israel "stop targeting civilians" as the death toll hit 175.

But as diplomatic efforts gained momentum, the pace of both Israel's raids on Gaza and the militant rocket fire slowed noticeably, with commentators drawing a link with behind-the-scenes ceasefire efforts.

U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon has urged Israel to scrap plans for a ground offensive, saying "too many" Palestinian civilians have lost their lives.

Human rights groups have said more than 75 percent of the dead were non-combatants.

The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees has said more than a quarter of them were children.

But, despite preparations for a possible ground attack, Israel appeared to be holding off with ministers at a Sunday night security cabinet meeting reportedly deciding against putting boots on the ground — for the time being.

Following a night in which Israel struck 40 targets, the pace of the air strikes appeared to slow noticeably — and with it the death toll, AFP correspondents reported.

Four people were killed on Monday. A fifth died of injuries from an earlier strike, Gaza emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said.

An army spokeswoman said that although 42 rockets had struck Israel during the day, all were short range and there were "far fewer targeted strikes" on the south.

"The military steps being taken by both sides in the last 24 hours were a function, among other things, of the developments in the dialogue," Alex Fishman wrote in the top-selling Yediot Aharonot newspaper, saying the state of negotiations should become clear "in the next 24 hours."

"If no catastrophe takes place that causes a particularly high number of fatalities on either side, the likelihood is that the fire will abate as early as this week."

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