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With Clinton In The Region, Israel, Hamas Continue To Trade Fire

Posted: November 20, 2012

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Despite the diplomatic push and despite the rumors of imminent peace, there was no cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas. On Wednesday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will head to Cairo to try to broker a deal.

Palestinians react after they checked the body of their family member killed in an Israeli air strike, at Al-Adwan Hospital in Gaza City on Tuesday.

Palestinians react after they checked the body of their family member killed in an Israeli air strike, at Al-Adwan Hospital in Gaza City on Tuesday. Chen Xu

(We rewrote the top of this post at 6:55 p.m. ET to sum up the day's news.)

Diplomatic efforts accelerated and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in the region on Tuesday, but despite the buildup, despite the rumors of imminent peace, there was no cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas.

Instead, the two sides continued to trade fire into the early morning, marking one of the bloodiest days in the nearly week-old conflict. Quoting the Gaza Health Ministry, The New York Times reports that more than a dozen people were killed, bringing the death toll in the Gaza Strip to 130, "roughly half of them civilians."

Shortly after landing in Tel-Aviv, Clinton met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem. They appeared together during a news conference in which Clinton said America's commitment to Israel's security is "rock solid."

"The rocket attacks from terrorist organizations inside Gaza on Israeli cities and towns must end and a broader calm restored," Clinton said. "The goal must be a durable outcome that promotes regional stability and advances the security and legitimate aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians alike."

Clinton hinted that a cease-fire is possible in the "days ahead." On Wednesday, Clinton will visit Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the morning and perhaps more importantly, she will head to Cairo midday for a meeting with Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, who has acted as the conduit for talks between Israel and Hamas.

Netanyahu, for his part, said Israel preferred reaching a "long-term solution" through "diplomatic means."

"But if not, I am sure you understand that Israel will have to take whatever action is necessary to defend its people," Netanyahu said.

We blogged the developments as they happened. If you want a play-by-play keep reading.

Our Original Post And Earlier Updates Continue:

Update at 4:06 p.m. ET. Clinton Arrives In Israel:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived a short time ago in Israel. Standing next to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu she emphasized that the United States' commitment to Israel's security is "rock solid."

"The rocket attacks from terrorist organizations inside Gaza on Israeli cities and towns must end and a broader calm restored," Clinton said. "The goal must be a durable outcome that promotes regional stability and advances the security and legitimate aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians alike."

Clinton said that President Obama has emphasized the same points in his talks with Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, who is trying to broker a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, and that she will carry that message to him in Cairo and to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

The bottom line: There is no deal for a ceasefire yet. She said she will work with Israel and Egypt on brokering a deal "in the days ahead."

Netanyahu said that Israel preferred a diplomatic solution but that "Israel will have to take whatever action is necessary to defend its people."

Clinton laid out three goals for the negotiations: They should bolster "security for Israel;" they should bring "improved conditions for the people of Gaza," and in the end move "toward a comprehensive peace for all people in the region."

(Here's full text of Clinton and Netahyahu's statements.)

Update at 2:50 p.m. ET. Egyptian Leader Says No Cease-Fire Announcement Tonight:

According to CNN, there's word from Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi that there will not be an announcement about a cease-fire or truce tonight — but that he still believes some sort of lull in the fighting is imminent. Morsi's government has been trying to broker a truce.

Update at 2:35 p.m. ET. No cease-fire By Israel Defense Forces:

One minute ago, Israel Defense Forces tweeted that "tn the past 30 minutes we targeted 13 terror sites, mainly underground rocket launchers." So its forces do not appear to have been told to stand down as of 2 p.m. ET.

Update at 2:25 p.m. ET. Are Salvos A Sign A Truce Is Near?

There's no more word yet about the possible cease-fire that was possibly going to be announced at 2 p.m. ET. On CNN moments ago, correspondent Ben Wedeman did note, however, that the flurry of shelling in the past hour or so from Israeli forces and rockets that have been fired from Gaza could, ironically, be signs that a truce is imminent. It's happened before, he said, that as a cease-fire approached the two sides fired off many shots. Each wants to show its resolve and, particularly in Israel's case, also may have some targets left to hit.

Update at 1:55 p.m. ET. Not There Yet, Israeli Spokesman Says Of Truce:

Mark Regev, spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Mark Regev, just told NPR's Philip Reeves that "it's not clear that we are there yet" regarding a cease-fire agreement. Meanwhile, the Israel Defense Forces just confirmed that "over the past hour, we targeted 20 terror sites in the #Gaza Strip." There's also word that the death toll in Gaza has topped 130 and that an Israeli soldier was killed today — bringing to at least four the number of people killed in Israel over the past week.

BBC producer Cara Swift, who is in Gaza, has posted audio of the sound of the artillery fire.

Update at 1:45 p.m. ET. Heavy Shelling From Israeli Navy:

CBS News producer Alex Ortiz reports from Gaza that the Israeli Navy is "going non-stop. Twenty minutes of continuous shelling, sounds like to the north but hard to tell." Numerous other correspondents who are in Gaza are reporting the same on their Twitter feeds. Reuters' Noah Browning posts that there's been an "earth-shaking explosion in downtown #Gaza city, probable airstrike, as #Israel navy pounds coast with series of missiles."

Update at 1:15 p.m. ET. A Period Of "Calm?"

CNN and other news outlets are reporting that Hamas officials say a "period of calm" will begin at 2 p.m. ET. Not a full truce, but something sort of like it.

Update at 12:50 p.m. ET. Peres Praises Egypt's Efforts:

A hopeful sign?

Egypt's effort to broker a cease-fire has been "constructive" and a "pleasant surprise," Israeli President Shimon Peres said a short while ago.

Update at 11:45 a.m. ET. Cease-Fire Deal "Close," But Not Final:

"Senior Hamas official says no cease-fire deal with Israel but agreement is close," The Associated Press writes. Likewise, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office tells CNN that negotiations are still under way.

Update at 11:10 a.m. ET. More Talk Of A Truce; Announcement Soon?

Reuters just moved an alert that says "Israel and Gaza militants agree to Egyptian-brokered cease-fire." It cites "Hamas official Ayman Taha." And Reuters adds that the truce is due to be declared at 2 p.m. ET.

Update at 10:55 a.m. ET. Netanyahu Says Israel Would Be "Willing Partner" In Solution:

At his joint appearance with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his country would be a "willing partner" in a long-term solution to the crisis, Reuters and other news outlets report. Netanyahu also said that Hamas does not share Israel's concern for the safety of civilians.

Update at 10:40. Secretary-General Issues "Appeal To All To Halt Fire":

Further escalation would be "dangerous and tragic for Palestinians and Israelis," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon just said in Israel, at a news conference with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"I appeal to all to halt fire," Ban said.

"I also strongly caution against a ground operation [by Israel]," he said.

Update at 10:25 a.m. ET. Leaflets Lead Palestinians To Fear Ground Operation:

"Israel's air force has dropped leaflets across parts of Gaza City, warning residents to evacuate their homes 'immediately' and move towards the center of the city, sparking fears of an imminent ground operation," the BBC writes.

Meanwhile, the Israel Defense Forces tweets that "5 IDF soldiers were wounded by a rocket fired from #Gaza into #Israel" today, while the Alqassam Brigades tweets from Gaza that "9 Palestinians killed since the Arab League delegation arrived in #Gaza this afternoon, more than 120 since Wed."

Update at 8:20 a.m. ET. Egyptian President Predicts Cease-Fire Today.

According to the BBC, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, "who is leading international efforts to broker a cease-fire, says he expects Israeli 'aggression' against Gaza to end on Tuesday." The BBC also writes that Egypt's official news agency says Morsi added that "the efforts to reach a cease-fire between the Palestinians and Israelis will produce positive results within a few hours."

7:15 a.m. ET:

-- Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is heading to the region. Clinton has left Cambodia, where she and President Obama were attending a regional summit. When she gets to the Mideast, Clinton will "meet with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, Egyptian President Morsi, and representatives of the Palestinian authority," NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

-- United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is already there. Reuters reports that:

"Ban on Tuesday called for an immediate cease-fire in the Gaza conflict, saying an Israeli ground operation in the Palestinian enclave would be a 'dangerous escalation' that must be avoided. Speaking at a news conference in Cairo after talks with Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby, Ban said he supported Egyptian-led efforts to bring an end to the fighting between Israel and Palestinian militant groups in the Hamas-run territory. ... 'My message is clear: all sides must halt fire immediately. Further escalating the situation will put the entire region at risk,' said Ban, who will go to Israel later on Tuesday. 'I will urge the Israeli leadership to end the violence,' he said."

-- The death toll in Gaza now stands at about 105, according to Hamas officials. Three Israelis have died in the week or so since fighting flared. The two sides continue to exchange fire. Israeli troops remain poised near the border with Gaza. As of yet, there has not been any move to send them into the Hamas-controlled territory;.

Some background.

What's behind this latest exchange?

As The Associated Press writes:

"Hamas wants Israel to halt all attacks on Gaza and lift tight restrictions on trade and movement in and out of the territory that have been in place since Hamas seized Gaza by force in 2007. Israel demands an end to rocket fire from Gaza and a halt to weapons smuggling into Gaza through tunnels under the border with Egypt."

NPR's Anthony Kuhn, who has been reporting from Gaza, has put it this way:

"This current escalation began last Wednesday [Nov. 14], when Israel launched the operation and assassinated Ahmed al-Jabari, the Hamas military chief. However, hostilities have been going on for days. Before that assassination, there were days of rocket attacks against Israel. There was a missile launched [at] an Israeli jeep. There was a firefight in which a Palestinian boy was killed. So both sides say the other side started it, and the retaliations and the killings just stretch back long before this escalation."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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