Flurry of diplomats in search of a truce
By the CNN Wire Staff
November 20, 2012
Gaza City– As explosions terrorized both Palestinians and Israelis for a seventh day Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will head to the region in an attempt to help resolve the incessant violence.
Clinton will leave Cambodia late Tuesday for a trip to Israel, Ramallah and Egypt. “She’ll meet with regional leaders, beginning with our Israeli partners, to consult on the situation in Gaza,” Deputy National Security Director Ben Rhodes said. He said the visits will support the “de-escalation of the violence and a durable outcome that ends the rocket attacks on Israeli cities and restores broader calm in the region.”
Meanwhile, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is also scrambling to help find a solution before airborne attacks escalate to a ground war. Ban met with Arab League Secretary-General Nabil El-Araby on Tuesday and has plans to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Sixteen foreign ministers from the Arab League’s member states are expected in Gaza Tuesday and will be joined by Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, a spokesman for the organization said.
On the ground, a fresh array of airstrikes pummeled Gaza as rockets pounded southern Israel on Tuesday.
The Israel Defense Forces said it targeted 100 sites overnight, “including underground rocket launchers, terror tunnels and ammunition storage facilities.”
The Palestinian Ministry of Interior, meanwhile, reported at least 110 people have been killed and 900 people injured since the beginning of the Israeli offensive.
Chatter about a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas has sparked a glimmer of hope. But despite days of diplomacy in Egypt, the reality on the ground did nothing to abate fears on both sides of the border.
Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, said Israel had finished its planning for a ground invasion of Gaza.
If Israeli troops do invade, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal said it would “not be a picnic.” “We do not want escalation, nor do we call for a ground war,” he said Monday. “But we are not afraid of it, nor will we back down.”
The violence and rhetoric has only intensified as diplomats try to resolve the crisis.
On Monday, Egypt’s top intelligence official presented Israel a letter outlining Hamas’ proposal for a cease-fire, according to a general in Egyptian intelligence who is optimistic a deal will being reached. The fighting has challenged Israel’s relationship with Egypt, but Israeli President Shimon Peres on Monday praised Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy for playing a “constructive role.”
Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor confirmed late Monday that “negotiations are going on” that may lead to a cease-fire, though he didn’t offer any details.
Gaza has been under a crippling economic embargo since Hamas won control of the territory from the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority, which controls the West Bank, after a landslide 2007 election that was followed by intra-Palestinian clashes.
The United States, Israel and the European Union characterize the militant fundamentalist Islamic organization Hamas as a terrorist group. But many Arab and Muslim nations see Hamas as the victim of Israeli aggression.
Diplomats hope to avoid a repeat of 2008, when at least 1,400 died as Israeli troops invaded Gaza after a similar spate of rocket attacks.
Israel has signaled it is open to a cease-fire, but only if Gaza militants halt rocket attacks. “They have a choice. The minute they will stop (shooting), it will stop,” Peres said.
The bloodshed might be worse if not for the “Iron Dome,” Israel’s missile defense system that has intercepted about 30% of the rockets fired from Gaza since last week, including more than half the 67 fired on Monday, according to the Israel Defense Forces.
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said a short-term “Band-Aid” solution won’t do. “There’s no doubt that Hamas would agree to an immediate cease-fire, but it wouldn’t mean anything. We want to know when it’s over, that it’s really over,” he said, adding Israel will use diplomacy or military force — whatever is necessary — to ensure that southern Israel doesn’t continue to face the threat of rockets.
Israeli authorities say they take great pains to avoid civilian casualties, though this is difficult to do when rockets are being launched from densely populated civilian areas, where suspected militant leaders are also based.
While saying he feels an agreement can be reached, Palestinian parliament member Mustafa Barghouti says he blames Israel for the bloodshed thus far. “The problem is that Israel is using the bombardment of civilians and the killing of children as a tool of negotiations,” he said.
Israeli forces also hit a Gaza City office building used by some media outlets — as they had Sunday — killing two, including the head of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s military media office.
That strike targeted four senior Islamic Jihad members who Israel’s military said were hiding in the building, including the information chief, Israel’s military said. The others were described as key figures in military training, attack planning, long-range rocket operations and arms manufacturing within the same organization.
Calls for a truce came on the heels of the single deadliest attack — an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City on Sunday that left a family of 10 dead within a building’s broken concrete and mangled metal. Al Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military arm, called it a “massacre committed by Israeli occupation” on Twitter.
The Israeli airstrike targeted Yehya Bayaa, “a senior Hamas member,” said Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich, the Israel Defense Forces’ chief spokeswoman. The IDF alleges Bayaa is one of the leaders of a Hamas rocket-launching unit. The building hit was a known hiding place for Bayaa — though not his home, as was reported earlier — Leibovich said. Initially, the IDF reported it killed Bayaa in the attack.
CNN’s Sara Sidner, Arwa Damon, Ben Wedeman, Saad Abedine, Holly Yan, Jonathan Wald, Kareem Khadder, Fred Pleitgen, Talia Kayali, Jessica Yellin, Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and Anderson Cooper contributed to this report.