Share “US pushes for truce as Gaza battle rages”

Published on NewsOK Modified: July 23, 2014 at 11:48 pm •  Published: July 23, 2014
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U.S. officials have downplayed expectations for an immediate, lasting truce between Israel and Hamas. But Kerry said limited progress has been made.

"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 after a meeting of just over an hour with Abbas in the West Bank town of Ramallah. "And this needs to end, for everybody. We need to find a way forward that works. And it's not violence."

He 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.

Kerry later met with Netanyahu for nearly two hours in Tel Aviv, but made no comments and headed immediately back to Cairo.

Israel launched a massive air campaign on July 8 to stop relentless Hamas rocket fire into Israel and expanded it last week to a ground war aimed at destroying tunnels the military says Hamas has constructed from Gaza into Israel for attacks against Israelis. At least 74 Palestinians were killed on Wednesday and early Thursday, raising the overall death toll in the 16-day war to 702, according to Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Kidra.

Israel said five more of its soldiers were killed, bringing the military's death toll to 32. Two Israeli civilians also have died, and a Thai worker in Israel was killed when a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip landed near the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon on Wednesday, police spokeswoman Luba Samri said.

Israel and the U.S. back an unconditional cease-fire proposal that has been offered by Egypt, which would be followed by talks on a possible new border arrangement for Gaza. Israel and Egypt have severely restricted movement in and out of Gaza since Hamas seized the territory in 2007.

An Israeli airstrike demolished a home in Gaza's Shijaiyah neighborhood, killing 30-year-old journalist Abdul Rahman Abu Hean, his grandfather and a nephew, according to health officials and relatives.

Israel also struck the Wafa hospital in Gaza City, which the military says houses a Hamas command center. Basman Ashi, the medical center's director, said all 97 patients and staff were evacuated following Israeli warnings and that no one was hurt in the attack.

As the Gaza death toll mounted, two Palestinian men were killed in separate clashes with Israeli soldiers near the West Bank City of Bethlehem, doctors said, a potentially ominous development in an area that has so far been relatively quiet.

Israel has launched more than 3,300 airstrikes since the conflict erupted, while more than 2,250 Palestinian militant rockets have been fired at Israel. The Israeli toll from the rocket strikes has been minimized by the success of the "Iron Dome" defense system, but it has not been 100 percent.

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg landed at Ben-Gurion airport Wednesday night on Israel's national carrier, El Al, and was greeted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on arrival in a bid to show it is safe to fly to Israel.

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Goldenberg reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Aya Batrawy in Duba, United Arab Emirates and Frank Jordans in Geneva contributed to this report.