John Kerry Returns to Middle East to Push for Israel-Hamas Cease-Fire

PHOTO: Secretary of State John Kerry steps out of his vehicle to board his plane at Andrews Air Force Base as he begins his trip to the Middle East, July 21, 2014.
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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is making a renewed push for a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas with another trip to the Middle East after the civilian death toll in the conflict sharply escalated over the weekend.

Kerry left Washington early Monday for Cairo, where he will join diplomatic efforts to resume a truce that had been agreed to in November 2012.

He will urge the militant Palestinian group to accept a cease-fire agreement offered by Egypt that would halt nearly two weeks of fighting. More than 500 Palestinians and 20 Israelis have been killed in that time.

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Among the dead are two Americans -- both soldiers for the Israel Defense Forces who were killed in fighting in the Gaza Strip, the U.S. State Department said. The fatalities came as the United Nations Security Council called for an immediate end to the conflict.

Max Steinberg, 24, and Sean Carmeli, 21, were among 13 Israeli soldiers and 65 Palestinians killed in fighting Sunday, the deadliest day in the two-week operation.

Steinberg attended El Camino Real High School and Pierce College in the San Fernando Valley region of Los Angeles. But after visiting Israel for the first time with his siblings in 2012, Steinberg decided to enlist, joining the Golani infantry brigade.

"He went back," said his father, Stuart Steinberg. "He was completely dedicated and committed to serving the country of Israel. He was focused, he was clear in what the mission was, and he was dedicated to the work he needed to be doing."

PHOTO: Max Steinberg, 24, of California, died while fighting for the Israel Defense Forces in the Gaza Strip, July 20, 2014.
Max Steinberg/Facebook
PHOTO: Max Steinberg, 24, of California, died while fighting for the Israel Defense Forces in the Gaza Strip, July 20, 2014.

Steinberg called home Saturday, hours before his death. His group had been injured when two of their tanks collided. Some soldiers had broken bones, and Max Steinberg sprained his back, his father said.

"He called me up at 4 a.m. that morning and said he'd be returning to Gaza, back to combat, to be with his friends," Steinberg said.

Following Steinberg’s death, friends and relatives posted reflections about his life on Facebook.

“Thank you for all you've done. You will always be a hero,” one person wrote.

PHOTO: Sean Carmeli, left, seen here in a 2012 photo provided by Rabbi Asher Hecht, was killed in combat in the Gaza Strip, July 20, 2014, while fighting for the Israel Defense Forces.
Rabbi Asher Hecht/Chabad of the Rio Grande Valley/AP Photo
PHOTO: Sean Carmeli, left, seen here in a 2012 photo provided by Rabbi Asher Hecht, was killed in combat in the Gaza Strip, July 20, 2014, while fighting for the Israel Defense Forces.

Carmeli, 21, a resident of South Padre Island, Texas, was also killed in combat in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, authorities said.

Rabbi Asher Hecht of Chabad of the Rio Grande Valley, who is a longtime family friend, said Carmeli joined the Israeli army after finishing high school in Israel and was in the Golani Brigade.

"He had great energy, yet had a kind and gentle soul," Hecht said.

"It's been a very tough day for us," he added. "We lost a gem."

Michael Greenberg, an American-born soccer player living in Israel, wrote about his friend online.

“Life becomes so much more real when someone you knew isn't there anymore. When will this end?” Greenberg wrote.

The Jewish Federations of North America released a statement offering its "deepest sympathies" for the families of Israeli soldiers killed in the conflict.

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