Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in the Middle East Tuesday to help Egypt broker a rumored cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. It’s the most active engagement the U.S. has had in the region since the violence reached a tipping point seven days ago.
"President Obama asked me to come to Israel with a very clear message: America's commitment to Israel's security is rock-solid and unwavering," Clinton said in a press conference in Israel. "The rocket attacks from terrorist organizations inside Gaza on Israeli cities and towns must end, and a broader calm restored."
A senior member of Hamas leadership signaled there would be no truce agreement reached Tuesday night. NBC's Ayman Mohyeldin told Andrea Mitchell that the agreement "is unlikely to be a long-term truce." More likely, Mohyeldin said, is a cessation of the violence.
Clinton was scheduled to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem Tuesday night and with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank, followed by a meeting with Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi in Cairo Wednesday. Clinton is departing straight from her Asian tour of Thailand, Myanmar, and Cambodia, with President Obama this week.
“[Clinton] has been actively engaged on the phone, but sometimes there's no substitution for showing up, as the secretary herself likes to say, for talking face-to-face, for doing what you can in person," State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said Tuesday.
President Obama phoned Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi—the third call between the two in the last 24 hours—from aboard Air Force One on his return from Cambodia Tuesday. Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told press that Obama “commended President Morsi’s efforts to pursue a de-escalation.”
One key player is absent from Clinton’s travel roster: Hamas leadership. The U.S. officially considers Hamas a terrorist organization, and therefore does not engage with the group. The Obama administration is facing criticism that this policy has allowed Hamas to become more powerful in recent years.
“It’s very hard to blame the Obama administration, on one hand, for disengaging from the problem because there’s no chance of near-term success,” The Atlantic’s Jeffery Goldberg told Andrea Mitchell Tuesday. “On the other hand, because of where we are, Hillary Clinton has to run from her Asia pivot, literally from Asia, back to the Middle East just to kind of patch this together temporarily.”
The death toll from the latest conflict has reached 130 on the Palestinian side and at least four on the Israeli side, NBC News reported.
Israel’s relatively low number of fatalities is due in large part to Iron Dome, the country’s rocket defense system, which re-directs rockets aimed at densely-populated Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Hamas showed again Tuesday that it has rockets capable of reaching Jerusalem—more than forty miles from Gaza, the capital city was thought to be beyond the rockets’ reach. More than 300 rockets have been intercepted by Iron Dome and more than 500 have struck within Israel since fighting intensified last Wednesday, according to the Israeli military.
“Eventually the range is going to be combined with accuracy and the Israelis are going to have a bigger problem than they do now,” Middle East Analyst and Woodrow Wilson Center Scholar Aaron David Miller told Andrea Mitchell on Tuesday.
Since Wednesday, 31 children have been killed in Gaza. Israeli President Shimon Peres said in a Tuesday press conference that the Israeli Army is working to prevent civilian casualties but that “unfortunately Hamas hides among the civilian population.”
“We use missiles that are targeted at people, at the enemy,” Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said on Andrea Mitchell Reports. “Unfortunately our enemy is using indiscriminate fire, which is against international law.”