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November 20. 2012 9:51PM

Clinton meets Netanyahu, seeking Gaza truce


Palestinians carry a sign to use as a shield during clashes with Israeli troops in the West Bank city of Hebron on Tuesday. (REUTERS)
GAZA/JERUSALEM - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Tuesday and pledged to work for a truce in the Gaza Strip "in the days ahead."

As the two began late-night talks in Jerusalem, Palestinian rocket fire and Israeli air strikes continued. Netanyahu said he would prefer a "long-term" diplomatic solution but repeated his readiness to step up an offensive against Gaza's rocket crews.

Clinton's outline of further days of negotiation, notably in Cairo with Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, may dampen talk of an immediate end to a week of violence that has killed over 140 people, most Palestinians but including two Israelis.

Officials from Egypt and from Gaza's ruling Hamas movement had talked up the chances of an end to hostilities, at least in some interim form, by the end of the day. But a Hamas leader in Cairo later told Reuters there would be no announcement before today. He blamed Israel for not responding to proposals.

Netanyahu, who faces a general election in two months and had mobilized army reserves for threatened ground invasion of the enclave, stressed his interest in a "long-term" deal to end rocket fire on Israel - a kind of deal that has eluded him and his predecessors in four years since Israel's last offensive.

Clinton, too, who broke off from an Asian tour with President Barack Obama and assured Netanyahu of "rock-solid" U.S. support for Israel's security, spoke of seeking a "durable outcome" and of the "responsibility" for contributing to peace borne by Egypt, Gaza''s other neighbor, whose new leaders hail from the Muslim Brotherhood that inspired Hamas' founders.

"In the days ahead, the United States will work with our partners here in Israel and across the region toward an outcome that bolsters security for the people of Israel, improves conditions for the people of Gaza and moves toward a comprehensive peace for all people of the region," Clinton said.

"It is essential to de-escalate the situation in Gaza. The rocket attacks from terrorist organizations inside Gaza on Israeli cities and towns must end and a broader calm restored.

"The goal must be a durable outcome that promotes regional stability and advances the security and legitimate aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians alike."

Netanyahu, who has seemed in no immediate rush to repeat the invasion of winter 2008-09 in which over 1,400 Palestinians died, said: "If there is a possibility of achieving a long-term solution to this problem with diplomatic means, we prefer that.

"But if not, I'm sure you understand that Israel will have to take whatever action is necessary to defend its people."

The Jewish state launched the campaign last week with the declared aim of halting the rocketing of its towns from the Palestinian enclave, ruled by the Hamas militant group that does not recognise Israel's right to exist.

Medical officials in Gaza said 31 Palestinians were killed Tuesday. An Israeli soldier and a civilian died when rockets exploded near the Gaza frontier, police and the army said.

Gaza medical officials say 138 people have died in Israeli strikes, mostly civilians, including 34 children. In all, five Israelis have died, including three civilians killed last week.

Khaled Meshaal, exile leader of Hamas, said on Monday that Israel must halt its military action and lift its blockade of the Palestinian coastal enclave in exchange for a truce.

Obama has said he want a diplomatic solution, rather than a possible Israeli ground operation in the densely populated territory, home to 1.7 million Palestinians.

Israel's military targeted more than 130 sites in Gaza Tuesday.

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