With Israel pressing its military offensive in the Gaza Strip, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says the humanitarian crisis in Gaza is growing worse by the day, but it is up to Hamas to stop that suffering by agreeing to an Egyptian-led cease-fire.
In Cairo Tuesday to meet with Egyptian and Arab League officials, Kerry said Egypt is offering a framework for the international community to help end the fighting in Gaza and return to a 2012 cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.
"Hamas has a fundamental choice to make,” he said. “And it is a choice that will have a profound impact for the people of Gaza."
Following two hours of talks with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, Kerry told reporters that there has been too much bloodshed on all sides.
"For two weeks now, we have seen Hamas launch rocket after rocket at Israeli neighborhoods and use an intricate set of tunnels that they have created in order to kidnap and try to kill Israeli citizens,” he said. “And for two weeks we have seen Israel respond, as any country has the right to do when it is under attack, and we support Israel's right of self-defense. But tragically trapped in the middle of all of this are people, civilians."
It’s creating a humanitarian crisis that worsens by the day, he said, with "people losing their homes, all of their possessions, their access to food and water, their entire way of life."
The Obama administration has announced $47 million in humanitarian assistance for Palestinians, including food, shelter and medical supplies. "And yes," Kerry added, "we know much more will be needed from us and the international community."
Getting at deeper issues
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri said it is not enough to just stop the fighting. He said these talks in Cairo must also help address the underlying causes of the conflict.
"We are hopeful that this visit will result in a cease-fire that provides the necessary security for the Palestinian people and that we can commence to address the medium- and long-term issues related to Gaza," Shukri said.
For Hamas, one of the biggest issues is the Israeli and Egyptian blockade of Gaza. Because of it, Hamas says it rejected last week's Egyptian cease-fire proposal.
Getting back to the 2012 cease-fire terms is more difficult, in part, because al-Sissi has a far less cordial relationship with Hamas than former Egyptian leader Mohammed Morsi did. The conflict itself is also further along than it was in 2012, and Hamas believes some of what it was promised two years ago was never delivered, so U.S. officials say the group will need more convincing this time.
Unable to negotiate directly with Hamas because it is classified by the United States as a terrorist organization, Kerry is working through Hamas backers Turkey and Qatar.