PHNOM PENH, Cambodia -- President Obama dispatched Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to the Middle East on Tuesday as the U.S. urgently seeks to contain the bloody conflict between Israel and Hamas.
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia -- President Obama dispatched Secretary of
State Hillary Rodham Clinton to the Middle East on Tuesday as the U.S.
urgently seeks to contain the bloody conflict between Israel and Hamas.
hastily departed for the region from Cambodia, where she had joined
Obama for summit meetings with Asian leaders. The White House said she
would make three stops, meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Palestinian officials in Ramallah and Egyptian
leaders in Cairo.
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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 U.S. 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.
Obama's deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said the U.S.
believes "Israel will make its own decisions about the military
operations and decisions that it undertakes."
"At the same time,
we believe that Israel, like the United States, like other countries,
would prefer to see their interests met diplomatically and peacefully,"
Rhodes said. "It's in nobody's interest to see an escalation of the
Obama and Clinton have consulted about the
widening crisis throughout their three-day tour of Southeast Asia, their
final joint trip before Clinton leaves her post as the top U.S.
diplomat. They spoke again about the situation Tuesday morning, aides
said, and made the decision for her to travel to the region.
it was unclear what impact Clinton's presence would have on the
spiraling violence or whether she was heading to the Mideast with any
specific overtures from the U.S. Rhodes said "there are a number of
ideas that are in play," but offered no further details.
Clinton each have held multiple telephone calls with their counterparts
in Israel and Egypt, which is at the center of negotiations to quell
the violence. Because the U.S. considers Hamas a terrorist organization
and prohibits contact between its members and American officials, it is
relying on Egypt, as well as Turkey and Qatar, to deliver its message to
the Hamas leadership in Gaza.
Israel and Hamas say they are open to diplomatic mediation efforts being led by Egypt, but they are far apart in their demands.
wants Israel to halt all attacks on Gaza and lift tight restrictions on
trade and movement in and out of the territory that have been in place
since Hamas seized Gaza by force in 2007. Israel demands an end to
rocket fire from Gaza and a halt to weapons smuggling into Gaza through
tunnels under the border with Egypt.
The widening conflict has
threatened to overshadow Obama's three-country tour of Southeast Asia,
his first overseas trip after winning re-election. The president, after a
marathon day that took him from Thailand to Myanmar to Cambodia, worked
the phones with Mideast leaders into the early hours of Tuesday
morning, aides said.
The White House said Obama will keep working
the phones with Middle East leaders while Clinton travels in the region.
The president is scheduled to depart Cambodia later Tuesday, arriving
back in Washington before dawn Wednesday.