Clinton to join Gaza ceasefire effort

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Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, is expected to leave for Israel on Tuesday, adding weight to the growing international effort for a ceasefire between Israel and the Islamist Hamas group.

Israeli officials said they expected Mrs Clinton, who is with President Barack Obama in Cambodia, to arrive either late on Tuesday or early Wednesday. She is also expected to meet Egyptian leaders in Cairo and Palestinian officials in Ramallah. The US, which has backed Israel’s right to self-defence, regards Hamas as a terrorist group and therefore does not meet its officials.

Amid mounting diplomatic pressure from world leaders, the Israeli security cabinet decided in a meeting overnight to hold off from a ground invasion of Gaza. “A decision was taken to give diplomacy more time – not unlimited time, but time. In parallel, the military option is being prepared,” one Israeli official said.

The meeting follows intensified efforts by Egypt to end Israel’s Gaza offensive on Monday, with a senior official in Cairo saying plans were being discussed for a two-stage ceasefire process and suggesting there were “encouraging signs” that Israel and Hamas were ready to seek a truce.

After discussions with both sides, an Egyptian official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Cairo was in talks with both Israeli and Palestinian negotiators on a ceasefire proposal that would include initial guarantees sponsored by Egypt followed by discussions of further commitments by both sides. However, it remained far from clear that Cairo would be able to reconcile the conflicting conditions and expectations of the two sides.

Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, speaking in Cairo on Tuesday, urged both sides to “halt fire immediately”, warning that the violence could put the entire region at risk.

There was also no sign that the firing was about to stop as Israel’s offensive entered its seventh day and the Palestinian death toll rose to at least 101, including 25 children. Israel battered a Hamas-affiliated bank in Gaza on Tuesday, the Associated Press reported.

One Israeli missile hit a media centre in Gaza City on Monday, killing two Palestinians including a senior member of the Islamic jihad militant group. The army said it was targeting a “hide-out” used by militant fighters.

Israeli towns again faced a barrage of rockets and missiles from Gaza on Monday. The Israeli military said at least 120 rockets and missiles were fired at Israel, taking the total since last Wednesday to 1,100.

On the diplomatic front, Egyptian mediators were joined by Qatari and Turkish officials in a scramble to restore calm and avoid the ground invasion of Gaza that Israel has been threatening to launch. In a fresh sign of tensions between the two former allies, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, branded Israel a “terrorist state” that was committing “terrorist acts”.

The leader of the Islamist Hamas group, which controls the Gaza Strip, said his organisation was open to ending hostilities with Israel but warned that the Jewish state had to stop firing first.

Speaking to reporters in Cairo following intense talks with Egyptian officials over a possible truce, Khaled Meshaal lambasted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, accusing him of launching the war for his own political ends. He warned of severe consequences should the Israeli armed forces launch a ground offensive into the Gaza Strip.

“He who started this crazy war must be the one who stops it, and when that happens our terms [of ceasefire] will follow,” Mr Meshaal said. “We don’t want to escalate things. We are not reckless with our people like Netanyahu is. But if he decides to go to war with us that would be foolish of him and I assure you, he will regret it.”

In the 90-minute meeting with reporters, Mr Meshaal boasted of Hamas’s military prowess, and claimed that Israel was already seeking an exit from the conflict by asking emissaries to approach Egypt, Jordan and Qatar about peace negotiations.

The claim was immediately denied by Israel. One government official said: “There is no deal and we are continuing to target the Gaza Strip.”

Israeli officials have said for several days that they are ready in principle to strike a ceasefire deal with Hamas, though they insist any agreement must guarantee a durable calm for Israeli cities and villages exposed to rocket fire from Gaza. The government is also seeking additional safeguards, including a mechanism that would curb Hamas’s ability to replenish its missile arsenal and enhanced protection against attacks from militants based in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula.

On Monday, Hamas officials said Israel had demanded too much in exchange for a ceasefire. “Israel has set two conditions, one creating a buffer zone and a stop of arms shipments into Gaza that were rejected by us,” Mousa Abu Marzouq, Mr Mishaal’s deputy, told pan-Arab Al Arabiya television.

 

In : World News