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Clinton vows commitment to J'lem, calls for de-escalation
By TOVAH LAZAROFF AND KHALED ABU TOAMEH
11/20/2012
Following reports of an imminent cease-fire, Hamas official says Egyptian efforts to broker a truce held up because the Israeli gov't has yet to respond to proposal; Clinton: US commitment to Israel rock solid.
 
US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton arrived in Jerusalem late Tuesday night amidst announcements that a cease-fire deal between Israel and Hamas had been delayed.

“America's commitment to Israel's security is rock sold and unwavering. That is why we believe it is essential to de-escalate the situation in Gaza,” Clinton said in a joint press conference with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

Clinton said that US President Barack Obama had asked her to come to Israel with a clear message: "America's commitment to Israel's security is rock solid."

The rocket attacks against Israel must end and calm must be restored, she said.

“The goal must be a durable outcome that promotes regional stability and advances the security and legitimate aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians alike,” Clinton continued.

“Our hearts break for the loss of every civilian, Israeli and Palestinian. I know that today was a difficult day and I offer my deepest condolences to the loved ones of the lost and injured." The Gaza crisis, Clinton said, underscores the urgency to find an outcome that bolsters Israeli security, improves living conditions for the people in Gaza and moves toward a comprehensive peace for all people in the region.

She said she planned to discuss this with Netanyahu, and later with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, before heading on Wednesday to Cairo.

Egypt, she said, has a responsibility and the opportunity to play a crucial and constructive role in restoring calm.

For his part, Netanyahu said that Israel is open to a diplomatic solution to achieve a long-term ceasefire.

However, the prime minister reiterated that Israel would do what is necessary to protect its citizens, during the brief press conference prior to their scheduled meeting.

Netanyahu expressed deep appreciation to the US for its role in the development of the Iron Dome, which the prime minister said has saved countless lives.

A Hamas official said late Tuesday night that Egyptian efforts to broker a truce with Israel had been held up because the Israeli government had yet to respond to proposals, indicating there would be no ceasefire until Wednesday at the earliest.

Meanwhile, the Egyptian government said that it had no plans to announce a cease-fire yet, CNN reported.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said late Tuesday that his movement still has not received Israel's response to the proposed cease-fire.

Abu Zuhri said that the Egyptian presidency would announce any cease-fire agreement when and if it is reached.

He said that in the meantime Hamas and other Palestinian groups would continue to respond to Israeli "crimes."
Earlier, another Hamas spokesman, Ayman Taha, declared that a cease-fire agreement had been reached under the auspices of the Egyptians.
 
Taha claimed that the cease-fire agreement would go into effect around midnight.

Islamic Jihad officials also talked about an imminent cease-fire. Islamic Jihad representative Abu Emad al-Rifai said that a cease-fire agreement would be announced during a press conference in Cairo at 9.00 p.m.

He described the ostensible cease-fire accord as a "victory" for the Palestinian armed groups.

However, top Hamas official Ezat Risheq later denied the reports about a cease-fire agreement. He said he did not expect any agreement to be announced Tuesday night. He added that as far as the Palestinians were concerned, "all options remain open."

Prime Minister's Office spokesman Mark Regev earlier told The Jerusalem Post "Until you're there, you're not there."
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US State Department Victoria spokeswoman carefully avoided the word cease-fire in her Washington press briefing and referred instead to de-escalation.

She said that what was needed was to end the rocket fire and restore calm, to create space to address “broader issues.”

Clinton as well as US President Barack Obama have been in touch with Egyptian, Israeli and European leaders in the past days, Nuland said.

Obama on Tuesday spoke on the telephone with Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi about ways to restore calm.

Clinton’s arrival followed on the heels of a visit by UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. He spent the morning in Cairo, from where Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi has worked to mediate an end to the violence.

Ban then arrived in Israel to meet with Israeli leaders. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle who was in Israel Tuesday morning flew to Cairo.

At a joint press conference with Ban,Netanyahu said, “If a long term diplomatic solution can be put in place through diplomatic means, than Israel would be a willing partner.”

Already on Sunday, Israel agreed to hold off on a ground offensive into Gaza, to allow time for diplomacy to work.

But, Netanyahu told Ban, “if stronger military actions proves necessary to stop the constant barrage of rockets Israel will not hesitate to do what is necessary to defend our people.”

Since Israel launched Operation Pillar of Defense on Wednesday, the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom and Germany have staunchly defended its right to protect its citizens from Hamas rocket attacks.

But a number international leaders have cautioned that they would not support a ground offensives.

Ban went further and hinted to Netanyahu that it could be illegal under international law.

Netanyahu said that Hamas was committing a “double war crime, by indiscriminately targeting Israeli civilians while they hide behind their own.

“The moment we draw symmetry between the victims of terror and the unintended casualties that result from legitimate military action against the terrorists, the minute that false symmetry is drawn, the terrorists win,” he said.

As someone who only nine months ago visited Sderot, Ban said, “I know how difficult the situation is here.” But he added, a ground operation would only result in further tragedy.

Reuters and jpost.com staff contributed to this report
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