U.K. Urges Israel to Avoid Civilian Casualties in Gaza

British foreign secretary Hammond stresses to PM Netanyahu the need for a swift conclusion to its ground incursion, blamed Hamas for triggering conflict; Kerry in Cairo to continue truce negotiations.

Britain's Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Britain's Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, left, speaks during a joint news conference with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem July 24, 2014. Reuters

Hamas must agree to a humanitarian ceasefire without conditions, British Foreign Minister Philip Hammond said at a news conference in Cairo on Thursday, as Egypt tries to mediate a truce between Israel and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

Hammond had urged Israel on Wednesday to avoid civilian casualties in its military operation in the Gaza Strip.

At a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as efforts to reach a cease-fire continued, Hammond "stressed the need for a rapid conclusion to [Israel's] ground operation in Gaza," and urged that Israeli forces "do everything they can to avoid civilian casualties."

After his meeting with Netanyahu, Hammond expressed to Sky News his grave concern that the world is losing patience with Israel. "As this campaign goes on and the civilian casualties in Gaza mount, Western opinoin is becoming more and more concerned and less and less sympathetic to Israel," he said in the interview. "That's simply a fact and I have to tell that to my Israeli counterparts."

Earlier, Netanyahu and Britain's new foreign secretary delivered a joint press conference at the Knesset. There, Hammond told reporters that Britain wanted to see a cease-fire as quickly as possible. "I came to bring this conflict to an end," he said.

He also put the blame on Gaza's rulers for triggering the current round of fighting.

Netanyahu, for his part, said, "Hamas and the Islamic Jihad's use of civilians is extremely cynical. It's a travesty."

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry returned to Cairo late Wednesday to continue cease-fire negotiations, after a lightening visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority, where his meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and failed to yield a breakthrough.

From Cairo, Kerry is engaging in ongoing talks with world leaders in an effort to promote the cease-fire agreement initiated by Egypt. A senior American official told Haaretz that Kerry spoke with the foreign ministers of Qatar and Turkey, and asked that they apply pressure on Hamas to agree to a truce. Kerry also held a phone conversation with Netanyahu on Thursday.

Egypt, Qatar, Turkey, the United States, the Palestinian Authority and Israel are among those involved in efforts to reach a cease-fire.