PHNOM PENH (AFP) – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will leave Asia on Tuesday to visit Israel, Egypt and Ramallah, stepping up US efforts to avoid a worsening of the Gaza crisis, an official said.
Clinton will meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and discuss the crisis with Egyptian and Palestinian leaders, after leaving President Barack Obama’s trip to Southeast Asia, said senior Obama aide Ben Rhodes.
Obama made the decision to send Clinton after speaking to Netanyahu and twice to Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, after leaving East Asia summit meetings on Monday night, said Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser.
The US president, on a mission to reinforce his foreign policy pivot to Asia, has made repeated calls to Middle Eastern leaders in recent days about a crisis which he says was precipitated by Hamas rocket fire from Gaza into Israel.
Rhodes said Clinton would express the US interest in a peaceful outcome that protects and enhances Israel’s security and regional stability, though he stopped short of calling her trip a mediating mission.
“The best way to solve this is through diplomacy, so that you have a peaceful settlement that ends that rocket fire and allows for a broader calm in the region,” Rhodes said.
News of Clinton’s trip came as Israeli leaders Tuesday discussed an Egyptian plan for a truce with Gaza’s ruling Hamas militant group, and after the death toll from Israeli raids on the enclave rose to more than 100.
Senior Israeli ministers decided overnight to delay any ground invasion of the Gaza Strip to give Egyptian-led truce efforts a chance to work.
Palestinian officials said Clinton would visit Ramallah in the West Bank on Wednesday morning for talks with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.
US officials did not say exactly who Clinton would meet in Egypt. But Rhodes said Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government, which has close ties to Hamas, was playing a useful role in trying to calm the situation down.
“The president and the secretary believe that the Egyptians have been quite constructive in the conversations we have had,” Rhodes said.
“They have expressed a sincere commitment to support a de-escalation here.”
Clinton’s arrival in the region will add to a flurry of diplomacy aimed at ending a worsening of the crisis which could further destabilise the turbulent Middle East.
UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, who has been in Cairo, is in contact with Clinton, US officials said.
Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal meanwhile said his movement was committed to trying to secure a truce with Israel, but insisted it must lift its six-year blockade of the Gaza Strip.
Egypt is leading efforts to mediate the truce, chairing marathon indirect negotiations in Cairo between Meshaal and an Israeli envoy.