Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

National and World

November 21, 2012

Israel-Hamas clash in Gaza Strip: Push for cease-fire gains momentum

JERUSALEM — A diplomatic push to end Israel’s nearly weeklong offensive in the Gaza Strip gained momentum Tuesday, with Egypt’s president predicting that airstrikes would soon end, the U.S. secretary of state racing to the region and Israel’s prime minister saying his country would be a “willing partner” to a cease-fire with the Islamic militant group Hamas.

As international diplomats worked to cement a deal, senior Hamas officials said some sticking points remained even as relentless airstrikes and rocket attacks between the two sides continued. The Israeli death toll rose to five with the deaths Tuesday of an Israeli soldier and a civilian contractor. More than 130 Palestinians have been killed.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton held a late-night meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after rushing to the region from Cambodia, where she had accompanied President Barack Obama on a visit.

“The goal must be a durable outcome that promotes regional stability and advances the security and legitimate aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians alike,” she said at a news conference with Netanyahu.

Netanyahu said Israel would welcome a diplomatic solution to the crisis but threatened further military activity, saying he was ready to take “whatever action” is necessary.

Top Hamas officials in Cairo, where cease-fire talks were being held, said no deal had been reached as of late Tuesday.

‘’Most likely the deal will be struck tomorrow. Israel has not responded to some demands which delayed the deal,” Hamas official Izzat Risheq said.

Israeli officials said only that “intensive efforts” were under way to end the fighting. Israeli media quoted Defense Minister Ehud Barak as telling a closed meeting that Israel wanted a 24-hour test period of no rocket fire to see if Hamas could enforce a truce.

In what appeared to be a last-minute burst of heavy fire, Israeli tanks and gunboats shelled targets late Tuesday, and an airstrike killed two brothers riding on a motorcycle. The men weren’t identified.

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, perhaps the most important interlocutor between Hamas, which rules the Palestinian territory, and the Israelis, said the negotiations between the two sides would yield “positive results” during the coming hours.

Israel demands an end to rocket fire from Gaza and a halt to weapons smuggling into Gaza through tunnels under the border with Egypt.

It also wants international guarantees that Hamas will not rearm or use Egypt’s Sinai region, which abuts both Gaza and southern Israel, to attack Israelis.

Hamas wants Israel to halt all attacks on Gaza and lift tight restrictions on trade and movement in and out of the territory that have been in place since Hamas seized Gaza by force in 2007. Israel has rejected such demands in the past.

In Brussels, a senior official of the European Union’s foreign service said a cease-fire would include an end of Israeli airstrikes and targeted killings in Gaza, the opening of Gaza crossing points and an end to rocket attacks on Israel. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

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