Hillary Clinton visits Middle East amid mixed cease-fire prospects

Middle East | Angela Lu

Hillary Clinton visits Middle East amid mixed cease-fire prospects

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York in September.
Associated Press/Photo by John Minchillo

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Israel late Tuesday to seek an end to the fighting between Hamas and Israel that has killed more than 100 people in the last week.

The prospects of a cease-fire seemed mixed. Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, the main mediator, told journalists earlier Tuesday that the ongoing talks would have “positive results in the coming hours.” Israeli officials were more cautious, saying that “intensive efforts” were underway while top Hamas official Izzat Risheq said it was unclear whether a deal would be reached.

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.

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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.

Fighting raged on as the talks continued. According to Israeli media, Hamas fired at least 150 rockets on Israel Tuesday. Israeli forces retaliating through airstrikes, tanks, and gunboats.

“At the moment we are continuing to respond with force to the crimes of the Zionist enemy,” Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum told al-Jazeera. “We need rockets to fall on Israeli cities until the final minute.”

Since the conflict began last Wednesday, 133 Palestinians have been killed, while in Israel only five have died. Much of inequality is due to Israel’s strong missile defense system and superior weapons. Israel also targets Hamas activists who live within the densely populated Gaza Strip, which leads to civilian deaths.

After meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Clinton will then speak with Palestinian officials in Ramallah, in the West Bank, and Egyptian leaders in Cairo.

U.S. officials said Clinton will reassure Israel it has full American support while urging it to limit civilian casualties, and she will press members of the Western-backed Palestinian government in the West Bank to influence its brethren in Gaza to halt the rocket fire.

In Cairo, Clinton will strike a similar note by reminding Morsi of Egypt’s peace obligations with Israel under the Camp David Accords, officials said.

Earlier Tuesday, Muslim Brotherhood’s Morsi bluntly referred to the conflict as “the grotesque Israeli aggression.” Many in Egypt support the Palestinians, including its leadership, as Hamas originally grew out of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has also pledged his country’s support of Hamas. “Turkey is standing by you,” Davutoglu told the Hamas prime minister in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh. “Our demand is clear. Israel should end its aggression immediately and lift the inhumane blockade imposed on Gaza.”

The United States considers Hamas, which has killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide and other attacks, to be a terror group and does not meet with its officials. The Obama administration blames Hamas for the latest eruption of violence and says Israel has the right to defend itself. At the same time, it has warned against an Israeli ground invasion, saying it could send casualties spiraling.

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