TEL AVIV, Israel – Fighting between militants in Gaza and the Israeli military intensified Tuesday, clouding the prospects of a durable cease-fire as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton arrived in the region to try to prevent an escalation of the conflict.
Israeli officials and negotiators from the militant group Hamas, communicating through Egyptian interlocutors, remained at odds late Tuesday over details of the truce that the international community was furiously trying to broker. Among the main sticking points was whether Egypt and the United States could act as dependable guarantors of a peace deal in a region where aggression comes in vicious cycles.
A former senior Israeli official who has been briefed on the negotiations said both sides have indicated that they prefer a cease-fire to avert an Israeli ground invasion, which could multiply casualties and spark a broader regional conflagration. But neither wants to back down without getting significant concessions, said the former official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private negotiations.
The Israelis, the former official said, want a commitment that Egypt will do a better job of policing its porous border with Gaza, which includes dozens of tunnels that are used to smuggle items including vehicles and parts for long-range rockets into the territory. Israel also wants the establishment of a buffer zone along its border with Gaza to prevent attacks on Israeli patrols, the former official said.
Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, wants Israel to lift its blockade of the enclave, home to 1.7 million Palestinians, a concession Israel is unlikely to grant. Israel says it is designed to keep militants from smuggling weapons and building bunkers.
Putting to rest rumors and assertions throughout the day that suggested a cease-fire deal was imminent, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made it clear to Clinton that he has not ruled out a ground invasion.
If there is a possibility of achieving a long-term solution to this problem through diplomatic means, we prefer that. If not, I’m sure you understand that Israel will have to take whatever action is necessary to defend its people. This is something I don’t have to explain to Americans.
The impasse was a blow to Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, who had said earlier Tuesday that he expected a deal within hours. The Israeli military said Gaza militants launched 200 rockets Tuesday, while Israel struck more than 133 targets in Gaza.
Clinton said her goal is to avert greater bloodshed.
America’s commitment to Israel’s security is rock-solid and unwavering, she said late Tuesday before seeing Netanyahu. That is why we believe it is essential to de-escalate the situation in Gaza.
In her remarks to Netanyahu, Clinton also stressed the pivotal part that Egypt stands to play, saying that as a regional leader and neighbor, Egypt has the opportunity and responsibility to continue playing a crucial and constructive role in this process.
AlsoHamas kills six it calls collaborators
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Masked gunmen publicly shot dead six suspected collaborators with Israel at a large Gaza City intersection Tuesday, witnesses said. An Associated Press reporter saw a mob surrounding five of the bloodied corpses shortly after the killing.
Some in the crowd stomped and spit on the bodies. A sixth corpse was tied to a motorcycle and dragged through the streets as people screamed, Spy! Spy!
The Hamas military wing, Izzedine al-Qassam, claimed responsibility in a large handwritten note attached to a nearby electricity pole. Hamas said the six were killed because they gave Israel information about fighters and rocket launching sites. Hamas did not provide any proof of the alleged collaboration.
– Associated Press