Possible Gaza ceasefire
by: VOAnewscom - Last updated: 2012-11-20
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Israel and Palestinians officials on Tuesday issued conflicting statements over whether a Gaza cease-fire deal has been reached.
Hamas officials said that a Cairo-brokered truce to end seven days of cross-border volleys would take effect late Tuesday.
"An agreement for calm has been reached. It will be declared at nine o'clock (1900 GMT) and go into effect at midnight (2200 GMT)," Hamas official Ayman Taha told Reuters from Cairo.
Pan-Arab television stations and the French news agency also reported Palestinian comments that a cessation agreement was in place.
But Israel spokesman Mark Regev told reporters that the announcements were premature.
“We're not there yet," Regev said on CNN. "The ball's still in play."
Israel had put a planned ground operation in Gaza "on hold" as diplomatic efforts swelled Tuesday to halt cross-border aerial strikes between Israel and Hamas militants, now in their seventh day.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton broke off an Asian trip to travel to Jerusalem, Ramallah and Cairo to meet with regional leaders.
Clinton left Cambodia for Israel Tuesday, where she will meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. She will also meet with Palestinian leaders and Egyptian officials on the trip, which the White House says will focus on U.S. interest in a peaceful outcome to the conflict.
U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes described Clinton's possible impact on the negotiations.
"It's not a matter of leverage, it's a matter of what is in everybody's best interests," he said. "It is not in the interests of the Palestinians and the people of Gaza for there to be an escalation of this conflict. That would bring with it a huge cost."
Egypt's President Mohamed Morsi said Tuesday that "Israeli aggression" against Gaza would end later in the day and that Egyptian-mediated efforts to reach a truce between Palestinians and Israelis would produce "positive results" in the next several hours.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Tuesday for an immediate cease-fire.
"Immediate steps are needed by all to avoid further escalation, including a ground operation, which would only result in further tragedy," he said at a Cairo news conference.
The Hamas government said Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi crossed into Gaza Tuesday on a solidarity visit, accompanied by 10 Arab ministers.
Smoke rose from Gaza City Tuesday, as Israel pushed ahead with its air campaign against Hamas militants who have been firing rockets toward Israeli communities.
But Gazans reported that the Israeli barrage was tempered compared to previous days.
VOA's Scott Bobb reports from Gaza that the diplomatic efforts may have temporarily calmed the situation.
"Last night had been quieter, although dozens of shells fell, nevertheless it was a bit quieter, residents say, and more peaceful," he said. "This could be because there's a delegation of diplomats coming from Egypt — the Arab League secretary-general, [Turkish] foreign minister and others to show solidarity with the Gazans and the Palestinians here."
Bobb said the pending arrival of Clinton and Ban, likely this evening, "could push things along."
Still, the Israeli air force hit more than 130 targets in Gaza Tuesday. The military says warplanes attacked Palestinian rocket launchers, smuggling tunnels and ammunition facilities. A bank used by Hamas was also hit in an air strike and badly damaged.
Palestinian militants continued to fire missiles over the Gaza border.
Sirens wailed in Jerusalem for the second time since the conflict erupted a week ago. Many residents heard a boom and police say a rocket landed in the Bethlehem area near Jerusalem, causing no casualties or damage.
In southern Israel, the army’s Iron Dome system fired interceptor missiles and knocked many of the incoming rockets out of the sky.
Israel began its offensive with a November 14th air strike that killed Hamas's military leader in Gaza. It says the attack was in response to weeks of intensifying rocket fire from Gaza on southern Israeli communities.