WASHINGTON (CBSDC/AP) — Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been dispatched to the Middle East in hopes to seek a truce to end the nearly week-long conflict between Israel and Hamas.
Clinton was with President Barack Obama in Cambodia for summit meetings with Asian leaders before departing.
Clinton will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Palestinian officials in Ramallah, in the West Bank, and Egyptian leaders in Cairo.
A State Department official tells CBS News that Clinton’s mediation hopes to “build on American engagement with regional leaders over the past days – including intensive engagement by President Obama with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Morsi – to support de-escalation of violence and a durable outcome that ends the rocket attacks on Israeli cities and towns and restores a broader calm.”
A source described as close to the Hamas delegation tells CBS News’ Clarissa Ward that he believed an agreement would be “reached within a few hours.” The source explained to Ward that the negotiating parties between Hamas and Israel were working on implementing a ceasefire on the ground.
The Obama administration has warned Israel of pursuing a ground assault in Gaza, fearing it would escalate violence and increase the casualty toll on both sides.
“Israel will make its own decisions about the military operations and decisions that it undertakes,” Obama’s deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told The Associated Press. “At the same time, we believe that Israel, like the United States, like other countries, would prefer to see their interests met diplomatically and peacefully. It’s in nobody’s interest to see an escalation of the military conflict.”
The latest conflict began last Wednesday after Israel retaliated against Hamas for firing rockets into the Jewish state. An Israeli airstrike took out the terror group’s top military commander.
Gaza health officials tell CBS News that 113 Palestinians have been killed since the conflict began last week, 54 of them civilians. Another 840 have been wounded, including 225 children.
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.
On Sunday, Sen. John McCain told CBS News’ “Face the Nation” that former President Bill Clinton should be sent to the region to try to negotiate peace.
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