TEL AVIV: The top U.S. diplomat defied a Federal Aviation Administration ban and flew into Israel's main airport Wednesday in a sign of sheer will to achieve a cease-fire agreement in the warring Gaza Strip despite little evidence of progress in ongoing negotiations.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry planned to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon during what appeared to be a crucial day in the flailing talks. U.S. officials have downplayed expectations for an immediate, lasting truce between Israel and the Hamas militant group that controls Gaza. At the least, Kerry's mission Wednesday sought to define the limits of what each side would accept in a potential cease-fire.
Kerry flew into Tel Aviv on an Air Force jet one day after the FAA banned commercial flights into Ben-Gurion Airport. The FAA imposed the 24-hour restriction after a Hamas rocket landed within a mile of the airport on Tuesday.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Wednesday's meetings would continue Kerry's efforts to get Hamas and Israel to declare a truce after more than two weeks of fighting in the Gaza Strip. More than 630 Palestinians and about 30 Israelis have been killed in the violence.
Kerry flew to Tel Aviv from Cairo, where he met Tuesday with Egypt's president and other high-level officials. Egypt has proposed a cease-fire plan that is backed by the U.S. and Israel but been rejected by Hamas. Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri said Tuesday's talks were focused "to not only resolve this issue, but also to set in motion once again the peace process that Secretary Kerry has been so actively involved in so as to end this ongoing conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis."
It's unlikely that Washington is ready to wade back into the morass of peace negotiations that broke off last April after nearly nine months of shuttle diplomacy by Kerry. But the new round of fighting between Israel and Hamas militants who control Gaza has reached the level of violence that U.S. officials warned last spring would happen without an enduring truce.
Kerry stopped short Tuesday of advocating a new round of peace talks. Still, he left the door open for broad negotiations between Israel and Palestinian officials once a cease-fire is in place.
"Just reaching a cease-fire is clearly not enough," Kerry told reporters after meeting with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. "It is imperative that there be a serious engagement, discussion, negotiation regarding the underlying issues and addressing all the concerns that have brought us to where we are today."