Kerry cites progress in Gaza cease-fire talks

Published on NewsOK Modified: July 23, 2014 at 9:53 am •  Published: July 23, 2014
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JERUSALEM (AP) — Offering the first glimmer of hope for a Gaza cease-fire, the United States on Wednesday said negotiations to broker a truce between Israel and Hamas militants are making some progress even if an end to more than two weeks of bloodshed is nowhere near.

"We certainly have made steps forward," U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in Jerusalem, where he met for the second time this week with United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon. "There's still work to be done," Kerry said.

He did not offer any specifics about the progress he cited in his third day of talks with Mideast leaders. He flew to Israel on an Air Force jet — one day after the FAA banned commercial flights into Ben-Gurion Airport because of a Hamas rocket attack nearby.

White House deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken said there must be a way forward that does not involve Hamas having the ability to "rain down rockets on Israeli civilians."

"One of the results, one would hope, of a cease-fire would be some form of demilitarization so that this doesn't continue, doesn't repeat itself," Blinken said in an interview with NPR. "That needs to be the end result."

Asked about Blinken's remarks, Kerry said, "All of the issues of Gaza would be on the table."

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said late Tuesday he had discussed with faction leaders, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal and Islamic Jihad among them, conditions for reaching a cease-fire, including "opening border crossings and ending all forms of aggressions." Prisoner releases, humanitarian aid to Gaza and holding a donors conference for the reconstruction of Gaza were among the topics discussed, Abbas said.

The U.S., Israel and the European Union all consider Hamas a terrorist organization. But the U.N. does not, and Ban said he and Kerry were jointly lobbying officials in the region to push Hamas and Israel to a cease-fire as soon as possible.

"We don't have much time to wait and lose," Ban told reporters before the meeting with Kerry.

Kerry also offered "profound gratitude" to what he described as 30,000 Israelis who lined Jerusalem streets on Wednesday for the funeral procession of Israeli soldier Max Steinberg, a 24-year-old American from the San Fernando Valley of Southern California who was killed in the fighting. "That's a remarkable statement — we're very grateful," Kerry said.

In Ramallah, following a meeting of just over an hour with Abbas, Kerry said the limited progress was gained in the last 24 hours and pledged to continue working on the cease-fire when he returns to Cairo late Wednesday night.

"We're doing this for one simple reason: The people in the Palestinian territories, the people in Israel, are all living under the threat or reality of immediate violence," Kerry told reporters outside Abbas' office. "And this needs to end, for everybody. We need to find a way forward that works. And it's not violence."

Abbas made no public statements during Kerry's visit to Ramallah.

Kerry also planned to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on what appeared to be a crucial day in the talks. U.S. officials have downplayed expectations for an immediate, lasting truce between Israel and Hamas, which controls Gaza.

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