International community steps up pressure to reach cease-fire
UN Security Council members urge end to violence; foreign ministers from U.S., U.K., France and Germany to meet in Vienna Sunday.
International pressure to reach a cease-fire in Gaza is increasing: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will meet on Sunday with the foreign ministers of the U.K., France and Germany, on the sidelines of the nuclear talks with Iran in Vienna, and discuss the ongoing fighting between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Senior officials in Jerusalem said on Saturday that though the diplomatic efforts are speeding up, at this point no concrete cease-fire offer has been presented to Israel.
Senior Israeli officials and Western diplomats said that the U.S., Egypt, Qatar, Turkey, the UN and others are holding talks concerning a cease-fire, but efforts are still in the early stages. "Nothing has developed into a serious framework," the senior officials said. "If there's a relevant offer we will examine it. We want to [restore] quiet in the south for a long period of time, and any cease-fire agreement must guarantee that."
Special envoy of the Middle East Quartet, Tony Blair, met over the weekend with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and discussed the possibility of a truce. Following the meeting, Blair met with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi in Cairo. The Egyptian president said after the meeting that Egypt is in contact with the Israelis and the Palestinians in an attempt to put an end to the violent conflict in the Gaza Strip. Sissi also warned of further escalation that could result in the death of many civilians in Gaza.
On Sunday, foreign ministers from the six world powers – the U.S., China, Russia, the U.K., France and Germany – will meet in Vienna during talks over Iran's nuclear program. British Foreign Minister William Hague said in a statement that he will take part in a meeting on the sidelines of the talks, alongside his colleagues from Germany and France and Kerry, to discuss ways in which to bring about a cease-fire.
On Tuesday, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier is expected to visit Israel and discuss the possibility of a cease-fire with Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Senior Israeli officials said they believe that during the week Kerry and the British and French foreign ministers will also arrive.
On Friday, Netanyahu said at a press conference in the Defense Ministry's Kirya compound in Tel Aviv that "no amount of international pressure will prevent us from acting with full force against a terror organization calling for our destruction." Netanyahu's statement was made on the backdrop of messages Israel had been receiving from several states since Thursday – through diplomatic and public channels – concerning the need to promote a cease-fire.
On Saturday, U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague spoke with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and called for the renewal of the cease-fire between Israel and Gaza, as per the agreement reached at the conclusion of Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012.
"I stressed … our deep concern about the number of civilian casualties and the need for all sides to avoid further civilian injuries and the loss of innocent life," Hague said.
“I told Minister Lieberman that continuing rocket attacks from Gaza are completely unacceptable. Israel has a right to defend itself against such attacks, but the whole world wanted to see de-escalation."
The British foreign secretary had a similar conversation with Palestinian President Abbas. He lauded the latter's call for truce and asked him to "do all he could to help bring this about."
“It is clear that we need urgent, concerted international action to secure a ceasefire, as was the case in 2012," Hague added.
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