WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State John Kerry is working for Israel and Hamas to agree to further halts in the Gaza bloodshed ahead of Egyptian-led peace talks, an official said Sunday.
Kerry returned to Washington early Sunday after a weeklong mission to the Middle East that failed to reach a permanent ceasefire to stop the 20-day conflict which has killed more than 1,000 people, mostly Palestinian civilians.
Just as Kerry returned, Israel announced a resumption of operations after a one-day pause which Hamas -- which has been firing rockets into the Jewish state -- belatedly accepted.
A senior US official said that Kerry was seeking a series of temporary ceasefires, which would lead the way for Israeli-Palestinian talks in Egypt on a more permanent plan.
"You have a way now to staunch the bleeding," the official who accompanied Kerry said on condition of anonymity.
Israel's security cabinet on Friday rejected a ceasefire proposal and insisted on the need to keep destroying tunnels through which Hamas can infiltrate from the Gaza Strip to carry out attacks.
Kerry, who spent much of the past week in Egypt, on Saturday held talks in Paris with the foreign ministers of Qatar and Turkey -- key supporters of Hamas, which the United States classifies as a terrorist group.
The US official defended the meetings, which have come under fire in Israel, saying it was significant that Turkey and Qatar had joined other international players in calling for a ceasefire.
Asked whether the approach was at odds with past US criticism of Qatar's support for Hamas, the official said: "The fact is, they are (funding Hamas) and as a result of that they have some influence."
At the talks in Paris, Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid al-Attiyah called for an end to the eight-year Israeli blockade of Gaza and for the Palestinians in the impoverished territory to have their own seaport.
Kerry supported calls for Palestinians to live "in dignity," including through trade with the outside world, but backed Israel's calls for action on tunnels.