US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected to fly to Israel on Tuesday and will meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, an Israeli source said, as diplomacy over the Gaza conflict gathers speed.
"Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will arrive this evening and meet with Netanyahu tomorrow," the source said.
- Obama reiterates support for Israel's right to defend itself
- US Senate expresses firm support of Israel
- Egypt sending PM to Gaza, denounces Israel assault
Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, saying an Israeli ground operation enclave would be a "dangerous escalation" that must be avoided.
Speaking at a news conference in Cairo after talks withArab League chief Nabil Elaraby, Ban said he supported Egyptian-led efforts to bring an end to the fighting between Israel and Palestinian militant groups in the Hamas-run territory.
"Immediate steps are needed by all to avoid a further escalation, including a ground operation which will only result in further tragedy," he said.
"My message is clear: all sides must halt fire immediately. Further escalating the situation will put the entire region at risk," said Ban, who will go to Israel later on Tuesday. "I will urge the Israeli leadership to end the violence," he said.
"We all must recognize that Israel has legitimate security concerns that must be respected in accordance with international law, but a ground operation would be a dangerous escalation," he said.
The White House Clinton would make three stops, meeting with Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Palestinian officials in Ramallah, in the West Bank, and Egyptian leaders in Cairo.
Clinton's trip marks the Obama administration's most forceful engagement in the weeklong conflict that has killed more than 100 Palestinians and three Israelis, with hundreds more wounded.
While the US has backed Israel's right to defend itself against rocket fire from Gaza, the Obama administration has warned its ally against pursuing a ground assault that would further escalate the violence and could dramatically increase casualties on both sides.
Earlier, a senior state official said that the forum of top nine ministers has decided that Israel will attempt to reach a lull.
"The goal is to reach a ceasefire and discontinue the operation," the official said. The ministers discussed the Egyptian proposal for a truce until 4 am. An official statement about the contents of the meeting has yet to be issued.
Also Tuesday, al-Arabiya reported that Israel and the Palestinian factions are expected to sign a ceasefire agreement within a matter of hours. It was also reported that preparations for the signing are already underway in Cairo. The report could not be confirmed by any other source.
According to al-Arabiya, Israel asked Egypt to play the role of mediator during a 24-48- hour ceasefire before the final agreement is signed. Sources told the network that the agreement includes the lifting of the Gaza blockade and the opening of various crossings.
Itamar Eichner, Reuters and AP contributed to this report
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