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Clinton Shuttles in Mideast in Bid for Gaza Cease-Fire

Clinton Shuttles in Mideast in Bid to Broker Gaza Cease-Fire
Hillary Clinton, U.S. Secretary of State, left, with Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, in Jerusalem. Photographer: Baz Ratner-Pool/Getty Images

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will shuttle today through Jerusalem, the West Bank and Cairo in a bid to salvage a proposed cease-fire intended to halt a weeklong torrent of Palestinian rockets and Israel air strikes.

Clinton arrived in Israel and met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem shortly before midnight after Egyptian plans to announce a truce at a Cairo press conference fell through. Representatives of Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip and is considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the U.S. and European Union, said they were seeking a cease-fire.

Clinton, speaking alongside Netanyahu before heading into his office, said it is “essential to de-escalate the situation in Gaza” and reach a “durable outcome that promotes regional stability.” She said she would take that message to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at his Ramallah headquarters today and later to Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, whose mediation efforts she praised.

The rocket barrages from Gaza and Israeli air strikes entered a second week amid the Egyptian-led truce efforts, with the number of Palestinians killed reaching 137 and Israeli deaths climbing to five. Palestinians fired 189 missiles, rockets and mortars into Israel yesterday, 51 of which were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system, the army said.

Netanyahu told Clinton he would “prefer” a diplomatic solution that stops Hamas’s rocket attacks against Israel. “But if not, I’m sure you’ll understand Israel will have to take whatever action is necessary to defend its people,” he said as the two made broadcast remarks.

Cease-Fire Pending

Neither Clinton nor Netanyahu commented directly on whether a cease-fire was near. Earlier, Mursi said an accord would be reached within hours, and Hamas scheduled a press conference at 9 p.m. local time to announce it before letting the matter drop.

Israel has postponed a decision on launching a ground invasion into the Gaza Strip, giving international negotiators a chance to craft a cease-fire, said a government official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. If talks fail, Israel is prepared to invade, he said.

Israel says any truce must guarantee the end of rocket attacks, while Hamas is demanding an end to the blockade of Gaza and the permanent opening of its border with Egypt.

Oil Declines

The Israeli military has carried out more than 1,480 air-strikes on Gaza, while Hamas and other Palestinian militias have fired more than 1,200 rockets since the Nov. 14 killing of Hamas military leader Ahmed al-Jabari.

Israeli aircraft struck what was described as a Hamas operations center on the 7th floor of a high-rise building in Gaza City and said the action was meant partly as a warning to media organizations that have have offices there, among them, Agence France-Presse.

“Warning to reporters in Gaza,” the army said in a message on the Twitter Inc. social network site. “Stay away from Hamas operatives & facilities. Hamas, a terrorist group, will use you as human shields.”

Oil declined on expectations of a cease-fire. Crude oil for January delivery declined $2.53 to settle at $86.75 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It was the biggest decrease since Nov. 7. Israel’s shekel strengthened for a third day and government bonds rose.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who met with Netanyahu in Jerusalem yesterday, said rocket attacks on civilians were unacceptable, and urged restraint by Israel. He said nobody would benefit if the conflict escalated.

Palestinian Rockets

The Gaza operation is the first major military initiative taken by Netanyahu in the seven years he has served as prime minister, including his first term from 1996 to 1999. A poll published by the Haaretz daily yesterday showed that 84 percent of Israelis approve of the operation, and Netanyahu is favored to win re-election in elections set for Jan. 22.

“It’s ironic given Netanyahu’s hawkish reputation that when he’s finally taken military action, it’s been fairly restrained and precise,” said Gerald Steinberg, a political scientist at Bar Ilan University outside Tel Aviv. “It also answers some of the criticism about his indecisiveness, which has come from both sides of the political spectrum.”

Israel has massed armor on its border east of Gaza and is calling up 75,000 reservists for a possible ground operation. An incursion would be the first since December 2008, when fighting left more than 1,100 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead.

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