Rocket and air strikes continue as truce talk goes on
Published on Nov 21, 2012 9:02 AM
GAZA/JERUSALEM (REUTERS) - Israeli air strikes shook the Gaza Strip and Palestinian rockets struck across the border as United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held talks in Jerusalem in the early hours of Wednesday, seeking a truce that can hold back Israel's ground troops.
Hamas, the Islamist movement controlling Gaza, and Egypt, whose new, Islamist government is trying to broker a truce, had floated hopes for a ceasefire by late on Tuesday; but by the time Mrs Clinton met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu it was clear there would be more argument, and more violence, first.
Hamas leaders in Cairo accused the Jewish state of failing to respond to proposals and said an announcement on holding fire would not come before daylight on Wednesday. Israel Radio quoted an Israeli official saying a truce was held up due to "a last-minute delay in the understandings between Hamas and Israel".
An initial halt to attacks may, however, not see the sides stand their forces down from battle stations immediately; Mrs Clinton, who flies to Cairo to see Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi later on Wednesday, spoke of a deal "in the days ahead".
As she arrived in Israel after nightfall, Israel was stepping up its bombardment. Artillery shells and missiles fired from naval gunboats offshore slammed into the territory and air strikes came at a frequency of about one every 10 minutes.
After seven days of hostilities that have killed over 130 Palestinians and five Israelis, two of these on Tuesday, both sides are looking for more than a return to the sporadic calm that has prevailed across the blockaded enclave since Israel ended a much bloodier air and ground offensive four years ago.
Mr Netanyahu, who faces an election in two months that he is, for now, favoured to win, told Mrs Clinton he wanted a "long-term"solution. Failing that, Mr Netanyahu made clear, he stood ready to step up the military campaign to silence Hamas's rockets.
Hamas for its part is exploring the opportunities that last year's Arab Spring has given it to enjoy favour from the new Islamist governments of states once ruled by US proteges, and from Sunni Gulf powers keen to woo it away from Shi'ite Iran.