Clinton and Netanyahu Meet to Discuss End to Violence in Gaza

Israel says no deal has been completed, but could be announced at 5 p.m. ET.

ByABC News
November 20, 2012, 11:24 AM

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip Nov. 20, 2012— -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met for more than two hours today behind closed doors with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli officials, saying she sought to "de-escalate the situation in Gaza."

Clinton, who flew to Israel today, appeared with Netanyahu ahead of their 4 p.m. ET meeting to discuss a possible ceasefire to the fighting between Israel and Islamic militants in Gaza.

"They discussed efforts to de-escalate the situation and bring about a sustainable outcome that protects Israel's security and improves the lives of civilians in Gaza," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a written statement after the meeting. "They also consulted on [Clinton's] impending stops in Ramallah and Cairo, including Egyptian efforts to advance de-escalation. They pledged to stay in close touch as she continues her travels."

The meeting came amid statements from Hamas earlier today that a ceasefire would soon be announced.

Netanyahu said he would prefer to use "diplomatic means" to find a solution to the fighting, but that Israel would take "whatever actions necessary" to defend its people.

"One of the things that we are doing is trying to resist and counter a terrorist barrage which is aimed directly at our civilians," Netanyahu said. "No country can tolerate a wanton attack on its civilians."

Clinton relayed a message from President Obama, reinforcing America's commitment to Israel's security and calling for an end to the rockets coming from "terrorist organizations in Gaza."

The Israel-Gaza Conflict in Pictures

"America's commitment to Israel's security is rock solid and unwavering. That is why we believe it is essential to de-escalate the situation in Gaza," Clinton said.

Clinton added that she would reiterate her message to Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi during a meeting on Wednesday.

"President Obama has emphasized the same points in his multiple conversations with President Morsi of Egypt, and we appreciate President Morsi's personal leadership and Egypt's efforts thus far," she said. "As a regional leader and neighbor, Egypt has the opportunity and responsibility to continue playing a crucial and constructive role in this process. I will carry this message to Cairo tomorrow."

Clinton expressed her condolences for the Palestinian and Israeli civilians who have been killed in the violent outbreak.

The rocket fire between Israel and Hamas, which began six days ago, has claimed more than 130 Palestinian lives and five Israeli lives. Half the Palestinian deaths were civilians; four of the five Israelis were civilians. A ceasefire, if reached, would bring a halt to the worst violence between Gaza and Israel in four years.

Israeli officials told ABC News earlier today that a final deal had not been brokered between Israel and Hamas, and that if a pact were reached, it would not be announced until after midnight local time, or 5 p.m. ET.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told ABC News the news would be announced at a press conference in Cairo, where Morsi has been trying to broker an end to the fighting.

An Islamic Jihad website also reported that the ceasefire would go into effect tonight.

Clinton will also meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas about the fighting.

In the meantime, however, Abu Zuhri called on all militant groups to continue firing rockets on Israel "in retaliation for the Israeli massacres."

Israeli missiles also continued to explode in Gaza while sirens sounded in Israel, signalling incoming rocket fire from Gaza.

Hamas said three Palestinian journalists were killed by an Israeli missile today, and Israel said one of its soldiers was killed by a Palestinian rocket today.

Gazans streamed out of northern neighborhoods during the afternoon after the Israel Defense Forces dropped leaflets telling residents to evacuate before dark. Scared Palestinians poured into Gaza City, cars and trucks piled high with belongings, many heading to schools for shelter.

ABC News' Matt Gutman contributed to this report