Diplomacy ramps up to reach truce in Gaza

Jan. 16, 2009 at 11:56 AM
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JERUSALEM, Jan. 16 (UPI) -- Israeli officials say the campaign in Gaza may be entering its final phase as diplomatic efforts to reach a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas intensify.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni flew to Washington to try to finalize a U.S.-Israeli agreement designed to prevent arms being smuggling or shipped outright into the Gaza Strip, the Financial Times reported Friday. A senior Israeli defense official, Amos Gilad, traveled to Cairo, to discuss Egyptian efforts to broker a truce.

"Hopefully we're in the final act when we are briefed by Gilad and Livni," said Mark Regev, spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. "There may be a full security cabinet meeting and decisions will stem from that."

Israel maintained its military operations in Hamas-controlled Gaza with aircraft striking about 40 targets before dawn Friday, the Times reported. Hamas responded by firing rockets into Israel, military officials said.

Diplomatic progress made Thursday was overshadowed by Israeli attacks on civilian targets inside Gaza, including the United Nations' main warehouse containing food, fuel and medical supplies. The U.N. Relief and Works Agency compound, serving as a shelter for 700 Palestinians at the time of the attack, was set on fire by the shelling.

Officials report nearly 1,100 Palestinians and 13 Israelis have died since the conflict began Dec. 27. Israel began Operation Cast Lead to halt Hamas's firing rockets onto Israeli targets from Gaza.

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