John Kerry arrives in Tel Aviv to broker cease-fire

GAZA CITY – Palestinian Liberation Organization leader Mahmoud Abbas is backing Hamas' core conditions for a cease-fire, he announced Wednesday, in a bid to end more than two weeks of Israeli-Hamas hostilities that have left hundreds of Palestinians dead and thousands injured.

"Gaza's demands of stopping the aggression and lifting the blockade in all its forms are the demands of the entire Palestinian people, and they represent the goal that the Palestinian leadership has dedicated all its power to achieve," senior PLO official Yasser Abed Rabbo said. "We are confident Gaza will not be broken as long as our people are standing beside it to support it through all possible means until the invaders understand that our great people inside the homeland and outside will not leave Gaza alone."

Local residents echoed that stance, expressing growing support for Hamas. Gaza City resident Abu Yasser said the more lives are claimed by Israeli rocket fire, the deeper his support for Hamas grows.

"Killing civilian and attacking our homes will not push us to blame Hamas," he said. "Although they were to blame for some problems in Gaza, we are all united behind the resistance now. All Israeli slogans about peace are a mirage – they have controlled our lives since they occupied Gaza 47 years ago, and now the siege must be lifted."

Israel says it began the Gaza operation to halt Hamas rocket fire on its territory and to destroy a network of tunnels leading from Gaza to Israel that are intended to allow Hamas militants to carry out attacks against Israelis.

Hamas also wants as part of a peace deal the release of prisoners re-arrested this year, after having been freed in 2011 in exchange for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

Earlier efforts for an Egyptian-backed cease-fire failed last week because Hamas said it was not consulted over the terms of the deal. The group also did not trust Egypt to broker a truce after the nation overthrew former president Mohammed Morsi last year – Morsi belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas is its Palestinian counterpart.

Since then, death toll has skyrocketed on the Palestinian side as Israel launched a ground invasion. The death toll has reached 644, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. At least 29 Israelis have died, the Israel Defense Forces say, as well as two Israeli civilians.

The international community, looking on in increasing concern, is upping its efforts to stop the carnage.

Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Tel Aviv Wednesday morning and is also expected to travel to Jerusalem and the West Bank to meet with the PLO's Abbas, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. The United Nations human rights council also held a special session in Geneva, Switzerland on the human rights situation in the Palestinian Territories.

U.N. human rights commissioner Navi Pillay called on Hamas and Israel to "strictly abide" by international humanitarian and human rights law.

"I reiterate my numerous calls for the blockade on Gaza to be lifted once and for all," Pillay said. "As we saw in 2009 and 2012 it is innocent civilians in Gaza who are suffering the most."

Yasser, who also holds a British passport, said despite the suffering, he is staying right where he is.

"I do not want to leave Gaza," he said. "I want to be with my family and die in Gaza."

Contributing: The Associated Press


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