US says still working for Israel-Hamas ceasefire

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Washington remained committed to pressing for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas on Tuesday despite Palestinian militants rejecting a short-lived truce and Israel resuming its deadly air campaign against Gaza.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said as the Egyptian-drafted ceasefire plan was unveiled that he would be willing to return to the region at a moment's notice if it would help bring the parties to a truce. But with the plan failing to end eight days of cross-border fire, Washington was still seeking a negotiated halt to the deadly attacks which have left at least 194 Palestinians and one Israeli dead.

"We're going to stay at it. The secretary (Kerry) will remain engaged with the parties," State Department spokesman Jen Psaki told reporters. "In our view we need to all remember what's at stake here: we will continue to work for a ceasefire."

While Ms Psaki stressed that President Barack Obama's administration's position remained that Israel has a right to defend itself, she said the goal was de-escalation on both sides. She warned Washington's primary Mideast ally against any ground invasion of Gaza, saying Mr Kerry would be "using every tool in our toolbox to return to the ceasefire."

Ms Psaki added that, while Washington does not engage with Hamas, which the United States has classified as a terrorist organisation, "there are countries in the region that are, that we remain engaged with."

The State Department official also condemned the civilian loss of life in the conflict.

"We've seen the reports of the number of Palestinian deaths, including children. That's horrific," Ms Psaki said. "And that's why we want to see an end to what's happening on the ground and a return to the ceasefire."

But she gave no credence to reports that Israeli forces were intentionally targeting civilians in their attacks on Hamas operatives.

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