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On Israeli Ground Offensive in Gaza, Kerry Says It Should Target Tunnels

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, July 17, more here -- On Israel's ground offensive in Gaza, the US State Department on July 17 read-out Secretary of State John Kerry's conversation with Benyamin Netanyahu earlier in the day:

This afternoon the Secretary spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu, who described the terrorist attack this morning near Kibbutz Sufa, and the imminent threat to Israeli civilians posed by Hamas tunnels from the Gaza Strip.

The Prime Minister explained his decision to launch an operation to target the threat of further terrorist infiltration through tunnels into Israel. The Secretary reaffirmed our strong support for Israel’s right to defend itself against terrorist threats emanating from tunnels into Israel and expressed our view that this should be a precise operation to target tunnels, as described in a statement from the Israeli Defense Forces.

The Secretary emphasized the need to avoid further escalation and to restore the 2012 cease-fire as soon as possible, reinforced our continuing commitment to the Egyptian initiative as the way to do so, and underscored the importance of Hamas accepting this plan as soon as possible.

The Secretary also reiterated our concern about the safety and security of civilians on both sides and the importance of doing everything possible to prevent civilian casualties.

 Back on June 12 the UN Security Council  issued a press statement on Gaza, after several rounds of back and forth. After that, nothing stopped. The death count in Gaza was over 180.

  Reacting to a ceasefire plan floated by Egypt, US State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki on the evening of July 14 said, "We welcome Egypt’s call for a ceasefire and hope this will lead to the restoration of calm as soon as possible. Secretary Kerry has been deeply engaged in conversations with Prime Minister Netanyahu, Egyptian government officials and President Abbas throughout this difficult period, and the United States remains committed to working with them and our regional partners to find a resolution to this dangerous and volatile situation."

  An hour and a half later, a Senior US State Department Official added, on background, "The United States has been engaged in trying to bring an end to the violence and find a different way forward.  Our focus is on working with countries in the region to see if it is possible to facilitate a cessation of hostilities, including a return to the November 2012 ceasefire agreement.  To that end, the Secretary has been in regular contact with key partners.  As you know, the Secretary has never hesitated to engage to get important diplomacy done.  Between July 12 and today, Secretary Kerry spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu on four occasions and Egyptian Foreign Minister Shoukry twice.  He also spoke with  Qatari Foreign Minister al-Attiyah twice and Turkish FM Davutoglu and Jordanian FM Judeh each once."

  But what about Abbas?

  Back on July 12, Inner City Press asked the State of Palestine's Observer Riyad Mansour of the status of the (stronger) draft resolution, and if he expects US Secretary of State John Kerry to mediate or facilitate.

  Mansour said if Israel does not stop, other steps will be taken including in the Security Council.

  Hours later, the Israel Defense Force itself confirmed to Ha'aretz and others that "Israel Navy's Shayetet 13 (Flotilla 13) commando unit raided a target in the Gaza Strip."

  Now what?

  Inside the Security Council on July 10, Israel's Ron Prosor told BanKi-moon that while he had given his speech, five rockets had been fired at Israel (Prosor played a rocket warning siren on his phone, to make his point.) At the stakeout, on-camera, Prosor raised the number of rockets to six.

  While Palestine's Riyad Mansour spoke on camera, the stakeout was nearly full with journalists. But when Prosor spoke there were far fewer -- one of whom told Inner City Press, “This is a question for FUNCA,” the Free UN Coalition for Access. Again Prosor played the rocket siren warning, and used the line “From Abuja to Falluja.”

  Inner City Press asked Prosor about those who say Hamas is not formally part of the unity government; he replied, “Hamas is Hamas.”

  On Palestine joining or complaining to the International Criminal Court, Inner City Press' question which Ban Ki-moon dodged on July 9, Prosor did not answer. Yet.

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