Clinton on crisis mission to end Gaza conflict

Clinton on crisis mission to end Gaza conflict

Clinton on crisis mission to end Gaza conflict

Updated 21 November 2012, 6:43 AEST

Egypt and Palestinian officials say a ceasefire is imminent but Israel says a deal is yet to be reached and has warned residents in Gaza to evacuate their homes.

Diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict between Israel and Hamas are gathering speed, with US secretary of state Hillary Clinton being sent on a crisis mission to the region.

Ms Clinton will meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders as the White House says it is in nobody's interest to see further escalation of the seven-day conflict that has so far claimed more than 110 lives.

Egypt's president Mohammed Morsi has predicted a ceasefire before the end of Tuesday (local time) between Israel and Hamas.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon is in Cairo pushing for a ceasefire, where he called for immediate steps from both sides to prevent further bloodshed and any ground invasion of Gaza by Israeli forces.

"Further escalating the situation will put the entire region at risk," he said.

"All parties must respect their obligations under international humanitarian law.

"That is true of those bearing arms and it is true of those giving the orders to use them."

Arab and Israeli media are reporting that a ceasefire may be only hours away, with Israeli sources saying the chances of a ground offensive in Gaza are still about 50-50.

But senior leaders have reportedly agreed to put off any incursion by at least a day after hearing from envoys on the progress of truce negotiations in the Egyptian capital.

Israel is said to be looking for terms that include Hamas guaranteeing to halt rockets attacks from Gaza for at least two years.

Hamas, meanwhile, is demanding Israel end its six-year blockade of Gaza.

The talks came as the UN Security Council was deadlocked on a statement on the conflict, with the United States saying it opposed any action that undermined efforts to reach a ceasefire.

US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, said there had to be an agreed ceasefire between the Israelis and Hamas for any halt in violence to be "meaningful or sustainable".

But Russia warned that unless an Arab-proposed statement calling for Israel-Hamas hostilities to end was agreed by Tuesday morning (local time), it would press for a vote on the full council resolution - setting up a potential veto clash with the United States.

The US, Britain, France and Germany all had problems with a text proposed by Arab nations last week because it made no mention of rocket fire from Palestinian militants in Gaza, diplomats said.

David Landau, the Israel correspondent for the Economist magazine, told Lateline that there is a feeling in Israel that the conflict will end soon.

"I've been this morning around the area which is being hit, and I got the feeling that people are kind of philosophical," he said.

"The kids are still not back at school and a lot of businesses are closed, but on the other hand a lot of life is going on as normal, and people are taking the thing in their stride as much as possible.

"In general there's a sense that this is now wearing down towards a resolution."

As the conflict entered a seventh day, terrified and desperate families in Gaza have fled their homes, some seeking haven in the south, which has seen fewer strikes.

An Israeli air strike on Gaza City killed at least five people on Tuesday, as a delegation of Arab ministers arrived in the territory, the Hamas health ministry said.

"Five people were killed and two others wounded in an Israeli air strike on the Sabra neighbourhood," health ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra told AFP.

Earlier in the day, mourners flocked to the funeral of nine members of one family killed in a weekend strike on a Gaza City home.

The violence, coming ahead of an Israeli general election on January 22, raised the spectre of a broader Israeli military campaign like its 22-day Operation Cast Lead, launched at the end of December 2008.

ABC/AFP