Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu warned that if cease-fire efforts failed he would not hesitate to take further military action against Gaza.
“I prefer a diplomatic solution. I hope that we can get one, but if not, we have every right to defend ourselves,” he said during a meeting with German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.
Israel has held off from sending ground forces into Gaza to give diplomacy time to work.
The two men discussed the ongoing cease-fire efforts in Cairo, with the help of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and the backing of US President Barack Obama. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton departed for Israel on Tuesday, and was expected to arrive in the evening. Clinton will meet with Netanyahu on Wednesday.
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.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday called for an
immediate cease-fire and said an Israeli ground operation in the
Palestinian enclave would be a "dangerous escalation" that must be
"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."
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.
Westerwelle arrived in Israel Monday night after a meeting with the European Union Foreign Affairs Council, which also backed the cease-fire efforts.
Germany has a constructive role to play in ending the conflict and achieving a long term arrangement that stop the flow of “terror weapons” into the Gaza Strip, Netanyahu said.
“As you know, we seek a diplomatic unwinding to this, through the discussions of cease-fire. But is the firing continues we will have to take broader action, and we won’t hesitate to do so,” said Netanyahu.
Westerwelle pledged his country’s support both to Israel’s right to defend itself and its basic demand that Hamas stop firing missiles.
“There is one key condition for everything else, and that is the stop of the missile attacks against Israel,” Westerwelle said. “This is a clear message, not only of the German Government but this is also the message what the European Foreign Minister yesterday sent out,” he said.
He added, “I’m here to underline that Germany stands by our friends in Israel, and Israel has every right to defend itself and protect their own citizens against these missile attacks from Gaza into your country,” Westerwelle said.
In a meeting with President Shimon Peres in the President's Residence on Tuesday, Westerwelle confirmed his frequently voiced stance that Israel has the right to defend herself against rocket attacks from Gaza.
In welcoming Westerwelle, Peres said how much Israel appreciates Germany's efforts "to bring an end to an unacceptable attack on civilian life and to renew hope for peace in the Middle East."
Peres denied that there was any siege against Gaza other than that of arms and aggressive weapons such as missiles smuggled from Iran. Food, building materials and other products can pass through freely, he said.
On Monday night, Westerwelle met with Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, before heading to Ramallah to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Cease-fire 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.
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.
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.
Greer Fay Cashman and Reuters contributed to this report.