Hillary Clinton, Ban Ki-moon to Arrive in Israel for Talks on Gaza Truce

Hamas, Islamic Jihad meet Egypt officials in Cairo to discuss Israel's cease-fire proposal; Israeli security cabinet decides to exhaust diplomatic process with Egypt, international community before launching ground operation.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

The diplomatic effort to achieve a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip will reach a peak Tuesday evening, when U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lands in Israel for a surprise visit. Clinton will arrive in Israel directly from Cambodia, after accompanying U.S. President Barack Obama on his visit to Southeast Asia.

Clinton will arrive in Israel late Tuesday night and hold a series of meetings on Wednesday: she will meet in Jerusalem with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. The U.S. secretary of state will also go to Ramallah, where she will meet with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

Together with Obama, Clinton has conducted intensive telephone diplomacy over the past two days with the foreign ministers of Israel, Egypt, Turkey, Qatar, France and other countries. Clinton and National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon have been in regular contact with U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro and U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson, and even conducted video conference calls with them from Air Force 1.

Meanwhile, on Monday evening, Obama contacted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and asked him to continue his efforts to achieve a cease-fire. Immediately afterwards, Obama called Netanyahu, heard updates from him and asked him to give more time to the Egyptian mediation efforts before intensifying the campaign in Gaza. In all their conversations, Obama and Clinton asked the leaders in the region to exercise their influence on Hamas to stop the firing of rockets.

On Tuesday afternoon, a few hours before Clinton was to arrive, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon landed in Israel after a short visit to Cairo. Ban moved up his arrival in Israel after his meeting with the Egyptian president was cancelled due to the death of Morsi's sister. Ban met with the Egyptian foreign minister and with the chief of intelligence and discussed contacts regarding a cease-fire with them.

Immediately after landing in Israel, Banwas scheduled to attend a meeting with Lieberman, and in the evening he will meet with Peres. Another senior official who arrived in Israel on Monday was German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, who also met with Netanyahu and Peres on Tuesday morning.

At the same time, in Cairo preparations are being made for a crucial meeting between representatives of Hamas and Islamic Jihad and Egyptian intelligence officials who are mediating between the organizations and Israel. Haaretz has discovered that the Hamas political leader Khaled Meshal, and Islamic Jihad Secretary General Ramadan Shallah, are expected to meet again this morning with the chief of Egyptian intelligence, Raafat Shehata and his staff in an attempt to sum up the final details of the cease-fire agreement.

During the meeting the two are supposed to give their consent to the wording of the cease-fire agreement and to discuss final disputes. In effect, if they give their consent, at the end of the meeting a cease-fire between the sides will be declared. The two are supposed to approve the final version of the proposal that Israel sent to Egypt in the wake of Monday night's meeting of the forum of nine senior Israeli ministers.

On Tuesday morning, after more than four hours of nighttime discussion, the ministers of the security cabinet decided to continue to allow time for the Egyptian mediation efforts, in order to try to reach a cease-fire. At the meeting the assessment was that exhausting the diplomatic process vis-à-vis Egypt and the international community would give Israel greater legitimacy to launch a ground operation in Gaza if discussions of the cease fire reach a dead end.

An Israeli political source said that the Israel Defense Forces continue to operate in the Gaza Strip in accordance with the defined objectives of the operation, "but before making a decision about a ground operation the prime minister intends to exhaust the diplomatic process in order to examine the possibility of achieving a long-term cease fire." The source noted that Israel prefers to achieve the objectives of the operation without entering Gaza, "but if there's no choice we'll do it, and the IDF is prepared for that."

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, left, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.Credit: AP/Reuters

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