Clinton will travel to Middle East as Israel weighs risky choices on Gaza

By Ernesto Londoño, and , Updated: Tuesday, November 20, 5:57 AM

TEL AVIV — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will travel to the Middle East on Tuesday to meet with officials in Israel, the West Bank and Egypt to discuss ongoing violence in Gaza, White House officials said, marking a dramatic escalation of U.S. involvement in trying to resolve the week-old conflict.

Clinton will talk with leaders in Jerusalem, Ramallah and Cairo. She will depart for the region from Phnom Penh, where she was taking part in the East Asia Summit with President Obama. But it was far from clear what Clinton would be able to achieve in a region dramatically reshaped since previous hostilities in 2009.

Although Clinton may be able to pressure Israel to refrain from a ground offensive on Gaza, the United States does not have relations with Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the densely populated enclave. Clinton will instead meet with Palestinian leaders in the West Bank, who are largely peripheral to the unfolding crisis. Israel is negotiating through Egypt, whose President Mohamed Morsi is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, a cousin organization to Hamas.

The death toll from Israel’s military operation in the Gaza Strip stood at 113 on Tuesday morning, according to Gaza health officials, with scant evidence that an Egyptian-brokered truce is in sight. Israeli aircraft on Tuesday struck the Islamic National Bank, which Hamas set up to fund operations in Gaza in the face of international sanctions.

“The president and Secretary Clinton have been talking about the situation throughout the trip,” said Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, referring to Obama’s four-day trip to Asia, which concludes Tuesday. Obama “met with Secretary Clinton this morning … and they discussed the way forward…. They concluded the best way to advance discussions with leaders in the region is for Secretary Clinton to take this trip beginning with our close partner Israel.”

Israel faces an increasingly stark choice between deploying ground troops to further weaken the capabilities of rocket-lobbing militants in Gaza and settling into what would almost certainly be a fragile cease-fire with Hamas.

In Cairo on Tuesday, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for an immediate cease-fire. “My message is clear. All sides must halt fire immediately. Further escalating the situation will put the entire region at risk,” Ban told reporters.

Ban met Tuesday morning with Arab League Secretary General Nabil el-Araby to discuss the situation and was to meet Morsi later Tuesday before traveling to Israel and the West Bank.

Obama spoke with Morsi and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the phone Monday night, and he spoke again to Morsi on Tuesday morning. The Obama administration has been pressuring the Egyptians to help broker a truce. The United States would support an agreement only if it includes an end to the firing of rockets into Israeli territory, Rhodes said.

Morsi’s schedule was complicated on Tuesday by a funeral for his sister, who died the previous day after a long illness, according to Egyptian state media. The funeral was Tuesday morning, and Morsi planned to attend a wake Tuesday evening, state media said. It was not immediately clear how active a role he would play in the day’s unfolding negotiations.

 

Read more…

http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/clinton-will-travel-to-middle-east-as-israel-weighs-risky-choices-on-gaza-amide-upheaval-across-region/2012/11/20/1d014770-32f5-11e2-bfd5-e202b6d7b501_story.html

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