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Clinton to arrive in Israel, push for Gaza ceasefire
By TOVAH LAZAROFF, GREER FAY CASHMAN
11/20/2012
US secretary of state to discourage military escalation; UN Sec.-Gen. Ban in Cairo calls for immediate ceasefire ahead of arrival in Israel; German FM meets Peres, says Hamas rockets must stop.
 
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is set to arrive in Israel Tuesday night. Clinton will meet with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, according to a source.

White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters that the message of Clinton's trip will be that it is in nobody's interest for there to be an escalation of military conflict in Gaza. He added that Hamas must end rocket attacks into Israel and that Egypt can be a partner in helping to resolve the conflict in Gaza.

Clinton's visit comes amid an flurry of diplomatic visits to the region aimed at securing a cease-fire to end to the hostilities in Gaza.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday called for an immediate ceasefire and said an Israeli ground operation in the Palestinian enclave would be a "dangerous escalation" that must be avoided.

"Immediate steps are needed by all to avoid a further escalation, including a ground operation which will only result in further tragedy," he said, before adding that Israel has "legitimate security concerns."

Ban spoke at a news conference in Cairo after talks with Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby. Later on Tuesday, the UN secretary-general will travel to Israel for talks with Netanyahu.

In a meeting with President Shimon Peres in the President's Residence on Tuesday, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on Tuesday confirmed his frequently voiced stance that Israel has the right to defend herself against rocket attacks from Gaza.

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"The German People and the German Government stand by Israel's right to protect and defend itself against missile attacks from Gaza; and Hamas has the responsibility to stop the missile attacks against Israel," Westerwelle said.

"We're all interested in a cessation of hostilities," he said, adding that everyone was working towards a de-escalation of the situation and doing their utmost towards a achieving a ceasefire, but the cessation of rocket-fire against Israel was incumbent upon Hamas.

On Monday night, Westerwelle met with Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, before heading to Ramallah to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Ceasefire or ground operation?

Israel’s diplomatic and security cabinet met late Monday night to discuss the latest cease-fire initiatives. The government agreed to briefly hold off on sending ground forces into Gaza in order to allow time for cease-fire efforts in Cairo to continue, an Israeli official told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.

“Israel prefers a diplomatic solution,” the official said, but added that any agreement must provide a real solution that would erase the threat of rocket attacks against the South.

If such a diplomatic solution is not found, then Israel is preparing its ground forces to enter Gaza, the official said.

US President Barack Obama called Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi to underscore the necessity of ending Hamas rocket fire into Israel, and to talk about ways to de-escalate the situation.

He also spoke with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, his third conversation with the prime minister since Operation Pillar of Defense was launched last Wednesday.

In both calls, Obama said he regretted the loss of Israeli and Palestinian lives.

In the middle of the afternoon, it appeared that Hamas and Israel were close to a deal, and that Hamas and Islamic Jihad had made a cease-fire offer to Israel.

Mashaal: Netanyahu, not Hamas asked for a cease-fire

Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal said on Monday that discussions to achieve a cease-fire were continuing, “but Hamas won’t succumb to Israel’s conditions.”

Hamas, he pointed out, was not opposed to a truce and is continuing to insist on the need to lift the blockade on the Gaza Strip and halt Israeli military strikes.

Israel, in turn, wants a security zone around the Gaza border and an end to the smuggling of weapons into the Strip.

Mashaal boasted that Hamas and other armed groups in the Gaza Strip managed to achieve a balance of power with Israel within 48 hours after the assassination of Ahmed Jabari, the commander of Hamas’s armed wing, Izzadin Kassam.

An official in the Prime Minister’s Office denied a claim made by Mashaal that Netanyahu had asked for a cease-fire.

“We have been hitting Hamas very hard,” the official said, explaining that Israel had attacked Hamas’s weapons arsenal, leadership, buildings and communication apparatus from the air.

“Hamas is under a lot of pressure and as a result, they are saying many things that are in no way connected to reality,” he said.

In Monday’s speech, Mashaal warned Israel against launching a ground offensive on the Gaza Strip, adding that such a move would be “idiotic.” The ground war would not be a picnic, he cautioned.

“We are not afraid of a ground war. If the enemy launches a ground attack, we will face it with courage,” the Hamas leader said.

Peres praises Morsi for cease-fire efforts

Quartet special envoy Tony Blair told President Shimon Peres that Egypt, Qatar, America and the UN were working to put in place a cease-fire.

Peres said that he appreciated efforts by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi to end the hostilities.

“Egypt is a significant player in the Middle East. Strangely, it is Hamas that doesn’t listen to the Egyptian president,” he said.

Peres accused Iran of pressuring Hamas to continue the conflict, saying that Tehran is supplying Hamas “with arms, training them and sending them money.”

On Sunday, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius similarly held meetings in Jerusalem and Ramallah to discuss the options for a Gaza cease-fire.

Russia on Monday urged an end to Palestinian rocket attacks and what it called disproportionate Israeli bombing of the Gaza Strip, and said it may propose a UN Security Council resolution on the conflict.

“We again affirm our position on the inadmissibility of firing at Israeli regions and of disproportionate strikes on Gaza,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “Moscow considers it necessary to stop the military confrontation without delay.”

Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said Moscow may propose a Security Council resolution that would envisage ceasing violence on both sides before the resumption of peace talks, news agencies reported.

Khaled Abu Toameh and Reuters contributed to this report.
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