Israel-Gaza conflict: US Secretary of State John Kerry hails 'steps' towards ceasefire after Middle East negotiations

Mr Kerry met with the moderate Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas

jerusalem

The US Secretary of State John Kerry, visiting Israel and the West Bank in a bid to end more than two weeks of fighting, has said that “some steps forward” had been made towards a ceasefire.

But Israeli leaders spoke of possibly escalating the army’s ground offensive in Gaza to an all-out re-occupation of the Hamas-ruled enclave, while the Islamist movement ruled out holding fire until its conditions for a ceasefire are met. These include Israel and Egypt lifting border restrictions that have crippled the economy and Israel releasing Hamas prisoners it recently rearrested in the occupied West Bank.

Mr Kerry met the moderate Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, who presented him with an outline of his ideas to end the bloodshed, according to Palestinian legislator and Abbas supporter Abdullah Abdullah. These include, according to Mr Abdullah, an immediate ceasefire with an agreement to be reached within five days on lifting Gaza border strictures imposed by Israel and Egypt, allowing for the meeting of the humanitarian needs of Gaza and freeing Hamas prisoners recently rearrested by Israel.

 

The proposal appears to be a middle ground between the unconditional ceasefire advanced by Egypt and the Hamas demands that the conditions be met first. Hamas is anxious that Qatar, which is sympathetic to its views and a key financier of Islamism, plays a key role in the diplomacy.

Britain was poised to join the diplomatic effort tonight as the Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, was due to meet Mr Abbas in Ramallah. Mr Hammond is due to meet Israeli leaders today. Mr Kerry told reporters during a meeting with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, also in the region to mediate, that “we have certainly made some steps forward”.

Video: Hamas remains sceptical about a ceasefire

The pair’s efforts are hampered by the fact that because of US and UN policy shunning Hamas as a terrorist group, they cannot meet directly with its leaders. Yossi Alpher, former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, said that Mr Abbas’ efforts to mediate “have potential”.

He said: “He can bridge gaps between Israel and Hamas and the US and Hamas.” But  Mr Alpher said a five-day period is insufficient. “What happens when by the morning of the fifth day Hamas is not satisfied? Will it renew the rocket fire?”

BA carries on flying

The US Federal Aviation Authority has extended its ban on American carriers flying to Tel Aviv, as British Airways maintained its position as one of the few international airlines to eschew fears that rockets from Gaza could bring down a plane landing at Israel’s main airport.

Despite a “strong” recommendation from European regulators that air services to the Israeli city should be suspended, BA said its position was unchanged.

Major European carriers, including Lufthansa, Air France and easyJet, halted services on Tuesday after the European Aviation Safety Agency said airlines should refrain from operating to and from Ben Gurion Airport.

But BA flights have continued. “We continue to operate as normal. Safety and security are our highest priority and we will continue to monitor the situation closely,” said a spokesperson for the airline.

Ben Chu

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