Kerry reaches out to Hamas allies to press truce: AFP

AFP, Thursday 24 Jul 2014

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks to reporters after meeting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah July 23, 2014.(Photo:Reuters)

US Secretary of State John Kerry spoke Thursday to his counterparts in Qatar and Turkey, which support the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, as he pressed for a Gaza ceasefire.

A day after he flew to Israel and cited signs of progress, Kerry was hunkered down in Egypt -- which drafted a truce proposal to end the violence -- as he reached out to regional officials by telephone, aides said.

The top US diplomat spoke to the foreign ministers of Qatar and Turkey in the hope that the two countries would use their influence to encourage Hamas to accept a ceasefire plan, which the Islamist group has so far rejected, a US official said.

Kerry also spoke again with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, after meeting him for two hours late Wednesday in Tel Aviv.

Unlike previous days, Kerry did not make any public appearances as new violence raged in the Gaza Strip, where at least nine people including a baby were killed when an Israeli shell slammed into a UN-run school.

Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal is based in Qatar, while Turkey's Islamist-oriented Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has harshly criticised Israel's assault on Hamas-ruled Gaza as well as Egypt's role in trying to clinch a ceasefire.

The 17-day conflict has killed more than 770 people, most of them Palestinian civilians.

Hamas has rejected the ceasefire proposal by Egypt's government, insisting that Israel end its eight-year siege on the impoverished Gaza Strip.

But a senior Hamas official acknowledged on Wednesday that it was unrealistic to expect the blockade to end in tandem with a ceasefire, and instead called for a firm agreement on principles on how to lift the siege.

Israel, which initially accepted a truce, has said it will keep up its military campaign as it eliminates tunnels that infiltrate Israel from Gaza.

Kerry also spoke by telephone to Foreign Minister Boerge Brende of Norway, which is the chair of the so-called Ad Hoc Liaison Committee which coordinates development aid to the Palestinians.

Norway is working to arrange a new aid conference for September in Oslo, although no final decision has been made, foreign ministry spokesman Frode Andersen said.

The conference follows requests by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, he said.

After a previous Israeli military assault on Gaza in 2009, donors met in the Egyptian resort of Sharm El-Sheikh and promised more than $4.4 billion to rebuild the impoverished territory over two years.

But much of the aid was held up, as donor countries refuse to channel money through Hamas while Israel blocks shipments of goods it says could be used in attacks.

*This article was edited by Ahram Online.

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