United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon and Secretary of State John Kerry are in Cairo, on a push to salvage an Egyptian plan to end fighting between Israel and Hamas in the war-torn Gaza Strip.
On arrival, Ban called for a truce “without any condition.” Kerry, who arrived separately in the capital, was due to confer with the U.N. chief on a $47 million humanitarian aid package aimed at bringing relief to thousands of displaced Gaza residents.
Earlier Monday, President Obama said the peace initiative must be aimed at stopping the fighting and the killing of civilians, echoing a call by the UN Security Council.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki says Secretary Kerry is here to support Egypt’s initiative to restore a November 2012 cease-fire in Gaza, where she says the Obama administration and its international partners are deeply concerned about the risk of further escalation and the loss of more innocent life.
In an interview with ABC television before leaving Washington, Kerry said Hamas needs to be part of a solution by accepting a cease-fire.
“Hamas has to understand: you cannot sit there and claim moral rectitude or the higher ground while you are busy rocketing people, and capturing people, and digging tunnels to attack them. This has to stop,” said Kerry.
Hamas last week rejected an Egyptian cease-fire as, in its words, “not worth the ink it was written with” because it offered no relief from the Israeli and Egyptian blockade of Gaza.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has met with Arab League officials as the head of a new coalition government meant to reunify his Fatah faction in the West Bank with the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
But he appears to have little influence with Hamas fighters launching rockets into Israel, calling into question his role in efforts to end the violence. With Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu under pressure from more right wing members of his coalition government to expand Israeli ground operations in Gaza, American University professor Guy Ziv says it is too soon to say who will come out of this stronger and who will be weaker.
“We have to see how this plays out. We have to see what the terms of the ceasefire are. And most importantly we have to see whether or not there’s going to be a diplomatic horizon, which I think is essential. This is where Bibi Netanyahu comes in. He needs to offer the Palestinians a better future and negotiate in earnest with Mahmoud Abbas on a two-state solution. That might actually weaken Hamas much more than the current Israeli operations do,” said Ziv.
The Times of Israel reported that Channel 2 news analyst Ehud Ya’ari, one of Israel’s most respected commentators, said shortly after the announcement of Kerry’s impending return to the Middle East that, as far as Israel is concerned, the secretary of state’s ceasefire trip is premature “and bad for Israel,” and that he should have left it to the Egyptians to lead the ceasefire effort. Ya’ari said many people, “including senior American officials,” tried to convey this to Kerry.
This marks the continuing trend of the Obama Administration “to give credit” to the Muslim Brotherhood, in this case Hamas, Ya’ari said, except that now it’s graver, because “we’re in a war.”
Politico reported that Kerry was caught critiquing Israel’s handling of the ongoing conflict in the Gaza Strip on an open mic earlier on Sunday.
“It’s a hell of a pinpoint operation, it’s a hell of a pinpoint operation,” Kerry told an aide over the phone, seemingly criticizing the Israeli government’s pledge to limit the scope of its ground invasion.
Kerry’s task in Cairo is considerably more difficult than two years ago when former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood negotiated the last cease-fire. Egypt’s new leader, the former general Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, is far less sympathetic to Hamas, meaning Kerry needs to include those with influence with Hamas, such as Qatar and Turkey.
A first proposal Egypt made early last week was accepted by Israel but snubbed by Hamas, which said it was not consulted and demanded a raft of changes.
The terrorist movement wants Israel to agree to an end to its blockade of Gaza and the release of scores of prisoners before it will agree to halt its attacks, the latest of which saw 10 terrorists infiltrate southern Israel early on Monday, July 21.
The UN Security Council held urgent talks on the conflict late Sunday, expressing “serious concern” about the rising death toll and demanding “an immediate cessation of hostilities.”
Sunday was the deadliest day of the conflict so far with more than 150 Palestinians killed in a blistering bombardment that left bodies lying in the streets and sent thousands of civilians fleeing their homes.
The Israeli army said 13 soldiers were also killed, its heaviest single day losses since 2006.