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Gaza shakes while Clinton seeks truce

US Secretary of State holds talks of a truce in the midst of rockets and air strikes in Gaza.

A Palestinian demonstrator runs through a cloud of tear gas during clashes against Israeli forces, outside Ofer, an Israeli military prison near the West Bank city of Ramallah, on November 15, 2012. Picture: AFP.

GAZA/JERUSALEM - Israeli air strikes shook the Gaza Strip and Palestinian rockets struck across the border as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held talks in Jerusalem in the early hours of Wednesday, seeking a truce that can hold back Israel's ground troops.

Hamas, the Islamic movement controlling Gaza, and Egypt, who's new government is trying to broker a truce, had floated hopes for a ceasefire by late Tuesday; but by the time Clinton met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, it was clear there would be more argument, and more violence, first.

Hamas leaders in Cairo accused the Jewish state of failing to respond to proposals and said an announcement on holding fire would not come before daylight on Wednesday.

Israel Radio quoted an Israeli official saying a truce was held up due to "a last-minute delay in the understandings between Hamas and Israel".

An initial halt to attacks may, however, not see the sides stand their forces down from battle stations immediately; Clinton, who flies to Cairo to see Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi later on Wednesday, spoke of a deal "in the days ahead".

As she arrived in Israel after nightfall, Israel was stepping up its bombardment. Artillery shells and missiles fired from naval gunboats offshore slammed into the territory and air strikes came at a frequency of about one every 10 minutes.

After seven days of hostilities that have killed over 130 Palestinians and five Israelis, two of these on Tuesday, both sides are looking for more than a return to the sporadic calm that has prevailed across the blockaded enclave since Israel ended a much bloodier air and ground offensive four years ago.

ELECTION

Netanyahu, who faces an election in two months that he is, for now, favoured to win, told Clinton he wanted a "long-term" solution. Failing that, Netanyahu made clear, he stood ready to step up the military campaign to silence Hamas's rockets.

Hamas for its part is exploring the opportunities that last year's Arab Spring has given it to enjoy favour from the new Islamist governments of states once ruled by US protégés, and from Sunni Gulf powers keen to woo it away from Shi'ite Iran.

It has used longer-range missiles, some sent by Tehran, and hopes to eclipse Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Hamas has spoken of an easing of Israel's blockade on the 40-km slice of Mediterranean coast that is home to 1.7 million people.

It may count on some sympathy from Mursi, though Egypt's first freely elected leader, whose Muslim Brotherhood inspired Hamas's founders, has been careful to stick by the 1979 peace deal with Israel struck by Cairo's former military rulers.

Clinton, who broke off from an Asian tour with President Barack Obama and assured Netanyahu of "rock-solid" US support for Israel's security, spoke of seeking a "durable outcome" and of Egypt's "responsibility" for promoting peace.

She repeated international calls for the kind of lasting, negotiated, comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian settlement that has eluded the two peoples for decades - something neither of the two warring parties seems seriously to be anticipating.

"In the days ahead, the United States will work with our partners here in Israel and across the region toward an outcome that bolsters security for the people of Israel, improves conditions for the people of Gaza and moves toward a comprehensive peace for all people of the region," Clinton said.

"It is essential to de-escalate the situation in Gaza. The rocket attacks from terrorist organisations inside Gaza on Israeli cities and towns must end and a broader calm restored.

"The goal must be a durable outcome that promotes regional stability and advances the security and legitimate aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians alike."

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