PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — President Barack Obama dispatched Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to the Middle East on Tuesday as the U.S. urgently seeks to contain the bloody conflict between Israel and Hamas.
Clinton hastily departed for the region from Cambodia, where she had joined Obama for summit meetings with Asian leaders. The White House said she would make three stops, meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Palestinian officials in Ramallah, in the West Bank, and Egyptian leaders in Cairo. Clinton was expected to arrive in Israel on Tuesday night and return to Washington late Wednesday or very early Thursday after making all three stops.
Clinton's trip marks the Obama administration's most forceful engagement in the weeklong conflict that has killed more than 100 Palestinians and three Israelis, with hundreds more wounded. While the U.S. has backed Israel's right to defend itself against rocket fire from Gaza, the Obama administration has warned its ally against pursuing a ground assault that would further escalate the violence and could dramatically increase casualties on both sides.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Clinton "will emphasize the United States' interest in a peaceful outcome that protects and enhances Israel's security and regional stability; that can lead to improved conditions for the civilian residents of Gaza; and that can reopen the path to fulfill the aspirations of Palestinians and Israelis for two states living in peace and security."
Still, Obama's deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said the U.S. believes "Israel will make its own decisions about the military operations and decisions that it undertakes."
"At the same time, we believe that Israel, like the United States, like other countries, would prefer to see their interests met diplomatically and peacefully," Rhodes said. "It's in nobody's interest to see an escalation of the military conflict."