July 23, 2014 - 16:22 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - The U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, has arrived in Tel Aviv to push for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas as fierce fighting continues in Gaza, the Guardian reports.
The move came as political leaders and diplomats held urgent talks in the region with the United Nations chief, Ban Ki-moon, saying his "hope and belief" was that an end to the two-week-old conflict could be "very near".
Kerry is expected to meet Ban, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, during his one-day visit to Jerusalem and Ramallah. He flew in despite a ban by America's Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on all U.S. flights to and from Israel imposed on Tuesday due to security concerns.
The Palestinian decision-making body led by Abbas said it was backing Hamas's demands that an end to the Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza and other concessions must form part of any deal to end the hostilities.
Opening an emergency debate in Geneva on Wednesday, July 23 morning, the UN human rights chief, Navi Pillay, said Israel might be committing war crimes in Gaza, adding that punitive house demolitions and the killing of children raised the "strong possibility" that it was violating international law. She also condemned the indiscriminate firing of rockets and mortars by Hamas into Israel, according to the Guardian.
Israel reported that two more of its soldiers had died in the conflict, bringing the military's death toll to 29. Two Israeli civilians have also died in the 15 days of fighting. According to the Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra, the Palestinian death toll stood at 650, most of them civilians.
Before arriving in Tel Aviv, Kerry reiterated his support for an immediate ceasefire. He said: "Hamas has a fundamental choice to make and it is a choice that will have a fundamental impact on the people of Gaza. But just reaching a ceasefire is clearly not enough. It is imperative that there be a serious discussion, negotiation addressing the underlying issues that have brought us to where we are today."
He added: "Once a ceasefire has been reached, we are certainly ready to talk through the incredibly complicated underlying issues to this crisis … The Egyptians have provided a framework and forum for them to be able to come to the table to have a series of discussions."
Kerry said Israel had responded to Hamas rocket fire "as any country has the right to do when it's under attack, and we support Israel's right to self defense."
He nevertheless expressed sympathy for victims on "all sides" of the conflict. "We've seen too much bloodshed on all sides, including the death of two American citizens, and we have watched the humanitarian crisis grow worse day after day. People have lost their homes, possessions, access to water and food, their entire way of life."