Gaza ceasefire hangs in the balance

by Ruth Pollard Middle East Correspondent
The Sydney Morning Herald

AS MIDDLE East leaders work with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to broker a ceasefire agreement acceptable to both Israel and Hamas, United Nations ambassadors in New York said the Security Council would hold an open debate on the crisis on Wednesday afternoon if a ceasefire was not called before then.

The open debate would break a week of silence in the council. After hours of closed-door meetings in the council on Tuesday, the ambassadors of India, Morocco and the Palestinian Authority all emerged to announce the council had agreed to the debate.

The move comes after the US blocked adoption of a unanimous press statement from the council because it did not explicitly criticise Hamas’ rocket attacks on Israel.

A Russian draft resolution calling for a ceasefire, expressing support for international mediation efforts and urging the Palestinians and Israelis to resume broader Middle East peace talks, remains stalled.

Advertisement In Jerusalem, at a brief appearance with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before the two entered closed-door talks, Mrs Clinton said: ”The American commitment to Israel’s security is rock solid and unwavering. That is why we believe it is essential to de-escalate the situation.”

Mrs Clinton was speaking at the start of a regional tour that will also take her to the West Bank city of Ramallah and on to Cairo for talks with Egypt’s President Mohamed Mursi.

Her arrival in Jerusalem coincided with furious speculation that a Gaza truce announcement by the two sides was in the works and could come within hours.

With the death toll on Tuesday standing at 139 Gazans and five Israelis dead, a senior official said Israel had delayed its decision on whether to launch a ground invasion by 24 hours to allow Egypt more time to broker the ceasefire.

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