Gaza: Clinton works for truce 'in the days ahead'
With the fighting in Gaza ongoing, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem early Wednesday. Meanwhile, emphasizing their support for the Palestinians, a group of Arab ministers visited Gaza.
AP Photo/Baz Ratner, Pool
Israeli air strikes shook the¬†Gaza¬†Strip¬†and Palestinian rockets struck across the border as U.S. Secretary of State¬†Hillary Clinton¬†held talks in¬†Jerusalem¬†in the early hours of Wednesday, seeking a truce that can hold back¬†Israel's ground troops.
Hamas, the¬†Islamist¬†movement controlling Gaza, and¬†Egypt, whose new,¬†Islamist government¬†is trying to broker a truce, had floated hopes for a ceasefire by late Tuesday; but by the time Clinton met Israeli Prime Minister¬†Benjamin Netanyahu¬†it was clear there would be more argument, and more violence, first.
Hamas¬†leaders in¬†Cairo¬†accused the Jewish state of failing to respond to proposals and said an announcement on holding fire would not come before daylight on Wednesday.¬†Israel Radio¬†quoted an Israeli official saying a truce was held up due to "a last-minute delay in the understandings between¬†Hamas¬†and¬†Israel".
An initial halt to attacks may, however, not see the sides stand their forces down from battle stations immediately; Clinton, who flies to¬†Cairo¬†to see Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi later on Wednesday, spoke of a deal "in the days ahead".
As she arrived in¬†Israel¬†after nightfall,¬†Israel¬†was stepping up its bombardment. Artillery shells and missiles fired from naval gunboats offshore slammed into the territory and air strikes came at a frequency of about one every 10 minutes.
After seven days of hostilities that have killed over 130 Palestinians and five Israelis, two of these on Tuesday, both sides are looking for more than a return to the sporadic calm that has prevailed across the blockaded enclave since¬†Israel¬†ended a much bloodier air and ground offensive four years ago.
Netanyahu, who faces an election in two months that he is, for now, favoured to win, told Clinton he wanted a "long-term" solution. Failing that, Netanyahu made clear, he stood ready to step up the military campaign to silence¬†Hamas's rockets.
Hamas¬†for its part is exploring the opportunities that last year's Arab Spring has given it to enjoy favour from the new¬†Islamist¬†governments of states once ruled by U.S. proteges, and from Sunni Gulf powers keen to woo it away from Shi'ite Iran. It has used longer-range missiles, some sent by¬†Tehran, and hopes to eclipse Western-backed Palestinian President¬†Mahmoud Abbas.
Hamas¬†has spoken of an easing of¬†Israel's blockade on the 40-km (25-mile) slice of¬†Mediterranean coast¬†that is home to 1.7 million people. It may count on some sympathy from Mursi, though¬†Egypt's first freely elected leader, whose¬†Muslim Brotherhood¬†inspired¬†Hamas's founders, has been careful to stick by the 1979 peace deal with¬†Israel¬†struck by¬†Cairo's former military rulers.
Clinton, who broke off from an Asian tour with President¬†Barack Obama¬†and assured Netanyahu of "rock-solid" U.S. support for¬†Israel's security, spoke of seeking a "durable outcome" and of¬†Egypt's "responsibility" for promoting peace.
She repeated international calls for the kind of lasting, negotiated, comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian settlement that has eluded the two peoples for decades - something neither of the two warring parties seems seriously to be anticipating.
"In the days ahead, the¬†United States¬†will work with our partners here in¬†Israel¬†and across the region toward an outcome that bolsters security for the people of¬†Israel, improves conditions for the people of Gaza¬†and moves toward a comprehensive peace for all people of the region," Clinton said.
"It is essential to de-escalate the situation in Gaza. The rocket attacks from terrorist organisations inside Gaza¬†on Israeli cities and towns must end and a broader calm restored.
"The goal must be a durable outcome that promotes regional stability and advances the security and legitimate aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians alike."¬†
Netanyahu, who has appeared in no immediate rush to repeat the invasion of winter 2008-09 in which over 1,400 Palestinians died, said: "If there is a possibility of achieving a long-term solution to this problem with diplomatic means, we prefer that.
"But if not, I'm sure you understand that¬†Israel¬†will have to take whatever action is necessary to defend its people."
As Israeli aircraft have carried out hundreds of strikes on rocket stores, launchpads and suspected¬†Hamas¬†command posts since assassinating the head of its military wing a week ago, tens of thousands of Israeli soldiers have been preparing tanks and infantry units for a possible invasion.
During the night, explosions again rocked the city of Gaza¬†and other parts of the Strip, while rockets from the enclave, some essentially home-made, others Iranian-designed and smuggled through tunnels from¬†Egypt, landed in¬†southern Israel.
One reached as far as Rishon Lezion, near¬†Tel Aviv, on Tuesday, the latest to jar¬†Israel's metropolis, long untroubled by Palestinian attacks. Another rocket fell close to¬†Jerusalem, the holy city claimed by both sides in the conflict.
Medical officials in Gaza¬†said 31 Palestinians were killed on Tuesday. An Israeli soldier and a civilian died when rockets exploded near the Gaza¬†frontier, police and the¬†army¬†said.
Gaza medical officials say 138 people have died in Israeli strikes, mostly civilians, including 34 children. In all, five Israelis have died, including three civilians killed last week.
Obama, whose relations with the hawkish Netanyahu have long been strained, has said he wants a diplomatic solution, rather than a possible Israeli ground operation in the densely populated territory, home to 1.7 million Palestinians.
Israel's military¬†on Tuesday targeted more than 130 sites in Gaza, including ammunition stores and the¬†Gaza headquarters¬†of the National Islamic Bank.¬†Israeli police¬†said more than 150 rockets had been fired from Gaza¬†by the evening.
"No country would tolerate rocket attacks against its cities and against its civilians," Netanyahu said with U.N. Secretary-General¬†Ban Ki-moon, who arrived in¬†Jerusalem¬†from talks in¬†Cairo, at his side. "Israel¬†cannot tolerate such attacks."
Critics have accused¬†Israel¬†of using disproportionate force that has killed civilians.¬†Israel¬†accuses¬†Hamas¬†of putting Gaza's people in harm's way by siting rockets among them.
Media groups have criticised attacks on Gaza¬†media facilities. On Tuesday, three local journalists died in air strikes on their vehicles.
A building housing AFP's bureau was bombed. The French news agency said its staff were unhurt.¬†Israel's military¬†said it had been targeting a¬†Hamas¬†intelligence centre in the tower.
Hamas¬†executed six Palestinians accused of spying for¬†Israel, who a security source quoted by¬†Hamas¬†Aqsa radio said had been "caught red-handed" with "filming equipment to take footage of positions". The radio said they had been shot.
Militants on a motorcycle dragged the body of one of the men through the streets.
A delegation of nine Arab ministers, led by the Egyptian foreign minister, visited¬†Gaza in a further signal of heightened Arab solidarity with the Palestinians.