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November 20, 2012

Clinton in Middle East for Talks on Ending Gaza-Israel Violence

by Scott Stearns

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in the Middle East for talks aimed at ending the violence between Israel and Hamas forces in Gaza.  Clinton met late Tuesday in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and is expected to see Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah Wednesday morning before flying to Cairo for talks with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland says it is part of intensive diplomatic efforts to end a week of rocket fire and air strikes between Israel and Hamas positions in Gaza.

​​"The goal of all of this diplomacy is to relieve the suffering of civilians, whether they are Israelis or whether they are Palestinians," she said.

President Barack Obama is sending Clinton to the region to pursue what U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes called "everybody's best interests."

Israel put a planned ground operation in Gaza "on hold" amid diplomatic efforts to end the cross-border aerial strikes.

As for a broader resolution of the outstanding differences between Israelis and Palestinians, Nuland said Clinton's first goal is to stop the fighting.

"We have to obviously start with a deescalation of this conflict. We have to see an end to the rocket fire on Israel," she said. "We have to see a restoration of calm in Gaza. And the hope is that if we can get through those stages, that will create space for the addressing of broader issues. But I don't want to prejudge. This is obviously ongoing and live diplomacy."

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Nuland said all parties want to see an opening for a durable end to the conflict.

"This goes to the underlying security of Israel and that the end of attacks from Gaza into Israel should be halted not simply temporarily, but in a sustained way. It goes to the condition of civilians in Gaza," said Nuland. "And it goes to the ability of Israelis and Palestinians to get back to the [negotiating] table about a lasting settlement."

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday called Israel a terrorist state because of its attacks in Gaza. Nuland said the United States has made clear to the government in Ankara that "some of the extremely harsh rhetoric coming from Turkey" is not helpful.