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Kerry, UN's Ban Seek Israel-Gaza Cease-fire


U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, right, and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon make statements to reporters in Cairo, Egypt, July 21, 2014.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, right, and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon make statements to reporters in Cairo, Egypt, July 21, 2014.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry are continuing meetings with officials in Cairo, in a bid to bring an end to fighting between Israel and Hamas.

The two-week-old conflict showed no sign of slowing early Tuesday. Israeli airstrikes hit more than 70 targets, including mosques, a sports stadium and the home of the late Hamas military chief across the Gaza Strip, a Gaza police official told the Associated Press. At least 10 people were killed. Meanwhile, rockets from Gaza flew into Israel.

Kerry met early Tuesday with Palestinian intelligence chief Majid Faraj before holding talks with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri.

Both Kerry and Shukri said they hoped to not only achieve a cease-fire, but also move forward with the larger Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Ban, who has urged both sides to immediately halt the violence and start negotiations without preconditions, is due to travel to Israel for a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and to the West Bank to talk with Palestinian officials.

Israeli soldiers' bodies identified

Meanwhile, the Israeli military said it had identified the bodies of six soldiers killed when their vehicle was attacked on Sunday. It's still working to identify a seventh soldier. Israeli media said the soldier was missing, but did not say whether he was alive or dead.

A Hamas spokesman said Sunday that militants had captured an Israeli soldier in Gaza. Israel's ambassador to the United Nations said that was "untrue."

The military also announced the deaths of two soldiers from Monday, bringing the Israeli death toll to 29, including two civilians, in the deadliest fighting in Gaza in five years.

The conflict has been far more devastating in the Palestinian territory, where more than 570 people have died since the conflict began July 8. Most of them were civilians.

Also Tuesday, gunfire hit the Gaza City offices of Al-Jazeera news network, which evacuated its employees from the site. An Israeli official said it would be "ridiculous" to accuse its forces of deliberately targeting journalists.

Israel began a ground offensive into Gaza last Thursday after airstrikes failed to stop Hamas cross-border rocket attacks.

Immediate cease-fire

President Barack Obama said he sent Kerry to Cairo to push for an immediate cessation of hostilities based on a return to the November 2012 cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.

"The work will not be easy. Obviously, there are enormous passions involved in this and some very difficult strategic issues involved," Obama said Monday at the White House. "Nevertheless, I’ve asked John to do everything he can to help facilitate a cessation to hostilities. We don’t want to see any more civilians getting killed."

Senior State Department officials traveling with Kerry said "growing concern" in Washington about rising civilian casualties prompted this trip.

Restoring the 2012 cease-fire is more difficult because of the change in Cairo's government. Former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood negotiated that deal, in part, on the strength of long-standing ties with Hamas.

Egypt's new leader, the former general Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, is far less sympathetic to Hamas, meaning Kerry needs to include Hamas backers such as Qatar and Turkey.

But Qatar and Egypt are at odds over the treatment of the Muslim Brotherhood since the coup against Morsi.

And acrimony between Turkey and Israel has grown since Israeli troops entered Gaza, with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan calling Israel a terrorist state that is attempting a "systematic genocide" against Palestinians.

Harder to negotiate

Senior State Department officials said getting back to a cease-fire also will be harder because the conflict itself is further along than it was in 2012, and because Hamas believes some of what it was promised two years ago was never delivered. The group will need more convincing this time.

Last week, Hamas rejected an Egyptian cease-fire as "not worth the ink it was written with" because it offered no relief from the Israeli and Egyptian blockade of Gaza.

A senior State Department official said "there may be an effort" to address border crossings in a renewed cease-fire push, stressing that Washington is looking to "find a more robust solution" to the conflict beyond a cease-fire.

In Cairo late Monday, Kerry announced $47 million in U.S. humanitarian assistance for Palestinians, including shelter, food and medical supplies for Gaza.

The Obama administration said it remains committed to addressing the humanitarian needs of Palestinians and will continue to monitor that situation closely.

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