US sends Clinton to Mideast to try to end conflict

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Efforts to end a week-old convulsion of Israeli-Palestinian violence drew in the world’s top diplomats today, with President Barack Obama dispatching his secretary of state to the region on an emergency mission and the UN chief appealing from Cairo for an immediate cease-fire.

Israel and Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers have staked tough, hard-to-bridge positions, and the gaps keep alive the threat of an Israeli ground invasion. Today, grieving Gazans were burying militants and civilians killed in ongoing Israeli airstrikes, and barrages of rockets from Gaza sent terrified Israelis scurrying to take cover.

From Egypt, UN chief Ban Ki-moon said he came to the region because of the “alarming situation.”

“This must stop, immediate steps are needed to avoid further escalation, including a ground operation,” Ban said. “Both sides must hold fire immediately … Further escalation of the situation could put the entire region at risk.”

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is to depart for the Mideast today from Cambodia, where she had accompanied Obama on a visit. Clinton is to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank and Egyptian leaders in Cairo, according to US and Palestinian officials.

The US considers Hamas, which has killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide and other attacks, to be a terror group and does not meet with its officials. The Obama administration blames Hamas for the latest eruption of violence and says Israel has the right to defend itself. At the same time, it has warned against a ground invasion, saying it could send casualties spiralling.

By today, civilians accounted for 54 of the 113 Palestinians killed since Israel began an air onslaught that has so far included nearly 1,500 strikes. Some 840 people have been wounded, including 225 children, Gaza health officials said.

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