Secretary of State John Kerry has landed in Cairo in a mission to arrive at some sort of settlement to end the latest battle between Hamas and Israel.
“The United States – and our international partners– are deeply concerned about the risk of further escalation, and the loss of more innocent life. We believe there should be a ceasefire as soon as possible – one that restores the cease-fire reached in November of 2012,” the State Department said in its announcement of the trip. “Secretary Kerry is working to support Egypt’s initiative to pursue that outcome, and will travel to the region as part of those efforts.”
Hamas rejected Egypt’s peace plan last week after Israel approved it. “It is a surrender and we reject it outright,” the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades said. “Our battle with the enemy will intensify.”
“As I’ve said many times, Israel has a right to defend itself against rocket and tunnel attacks from Hamas. And as a result of its operations, Israel has already done significant damage to Hamas’s terrorist infrastructure in Gaza,” President Obama said this morning on the South Lawn of the White House. “I’ve also said, however, that we have serious concerns about the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths and the loss of Israeli lives. And that is why it now has to be our focus and the focus of the international community to bring about a cease-fire that ends the fighting and that can stop the deaths of innocent civilians, both in Gaza and in Israel.”
Kerry, Obama said, will meet with allies and partners to attempt to forge an agreement.
“I’ve instructed him to push for an immediate cessation of hostilities based on a return to the November 2012 cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas in Gaza,” Obama said. “The work will not be easy. Obviously, there are enormous passions involved in this and some very difficult strategic issues involved.”
“Nevertheless, I’ve asked John to do everything he can to help facilitate a cessation to hostilities,” he added. “We don’t want to see any more civilians getting killed.”
At the State Department, spokeswoman Marie Harf echoed that “we have serious concerns about the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths and the loss of Israeli lives.”
“I’ll let the Israeli government speak to its operations, but they’ve spoken about particularly rocket and tunnel attacks coming from Hamas in Gaza and I know they’ve been quite focused on those kind of attacks and thwarting them, but I’ll let them speak to their own military operation,” Harf told reporters.
“The secretary and the president both have been clear that they’ve spoken about the November 2012 ceasefire because look, overall our preference here is a ceasefire as soon as possible. That’s what the secretary is going to Cairo to talk about with the Egyptian, with Ban Ki-moon and with others. And so at this point we do believe that there’s not another viable plan out there.”
Harf added that “obviously our position on Hamas hasn’t changed.”
“But this is an important point to talk to the Egyptians, who do play a role here, and have played an important role in past ceasefires, as you’ve noted, to see if we can get to a ceasefire here,” she said. “I would also emphasize that this is hard, and that you know, I think the secretary will be there on the ground talking to the Egyptians, but I think we need to be realistic about how hard this is.”
UPDATE: Kerry has announced a $47 million aid package “to help address the humanitarian situation in Gaza,” including “an initial $15 million contribution to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in response to UNRWA’s $60 million Gaza Flash Appeal.”