- - Tuesday, November 20, 2012

JERUSALEM — Frantic efforts to reach a cease-fire in the 7-day-old Israel-Gaza conflict appeared stalled late Tuesday, after negotiators throughout the day confidently predicted an imminent truce and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton rushed to Israel to appeal for peace.

The fighting between the Israeli military and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip continued, as both sides stepped up attacks in a fierce finale before the presumed cease-fire would take hold.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants fired more than 150 rockets at Israel. For the first time since the fighting erupted a week ago, a rocket hit an apartment building in metropolitan Tel Aviv, in the city of Rishon LeZion.

The rocket, packed with nearly 200 pounds of explosives, caused widespread damage, but residents of the building escaped injury by fleeing to special rooms in their apartments that are hardened to protect them from bombs.

World leaders intervene

Foreign leaders converged on the region during the day to press both sides to accept a cease-fire mediated by Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi.

Mrs. Clinton held a late-night meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. She is scheduled to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, whose government controls the West Bank but has no power in the Gaza Strip.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Netanyahu said Israel would be a “willing partner” to a cease-fire with Hamas.

However, in a reference to Israel’s biblical warrior king, he warned: “Our hand is outstretched to those of our neighbors who want to make peace with us, and the other hand is firmly grasping the sword of David.”

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who also met with Mr. Netanyahu, urged “maximum restraint.”

“Further escalation benefits no one,” he said.

King Abdullah II of Jordan also called Mr. Netanyahu to urge a cease-fire. Jordan and Egypt are the only Arab nations that have peace treaties with Israel.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and a delegation of Arab foreign ministers expressed support for the Palestinians after meeting with Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh in Gaza.

“Turkey is standing by you,” he said. “Our demand is clear. Israel should end its aggression immediately and lift the inhumane blockade imposed on Gaza.”

Cease-fire confusion

Throughout the day, Mr. Morsi and Gaza militants predicted a cease-fire at any moment.

At one point, Mr. Morsi declared, “The farce of the Israeli aggression will end today, Tuesday, and the efforts to reach a cease-fire between the Palestinians and Israelis will produce positive results within a few hours.”

Later, Hamas officials meeting in Cairo said the agreement would be announced at 9 p.m. Israel time and would go into effect at midnight.

But 9 p.m. passed without any announcement. Hamas said the delay was caused by Israel’s failure to respond to the latest draft cease-fire proposal submitted after three days of indirect negotiations between Israeli and Hamas representatives.

A last-minute hitch, however, apparently raised questions about when, even whether, there would be an agreement.

Arab Affairs commentator Ehud Ya’ari said the agreement, which remains secret, apparently would consist of three parts.

The first is the cease-fire. The second is an agreement under which Egypt would reopen its own border with the Gaza Strip.

The third would allow U.S. and Egyptian inspectors to ensure that no weapons are smuggled into Gaza from Egypt.

Hamas has other demands, including an end to Israel’s targeted assassinations of militants and access to Gaza by foreign vessels.

Jerusalem targeted again

For the second time since the shooting started, Hamas fired a rocket in the direction of Jerusalem, but it again fell short. Police said it landed in an open area inside a West Bank Arab village without exploding.

A second shell hit not far away near the largely Arab city of Hebron.

Hamas gunmen also killed six Gaza residents accused of spying for Israel.

Israeli aircraft increased attacks, targeting terrorist commanders. More than 130 people have been killed in Gaza since Nov. 14, when Israel began its retaliation for months of Palestinian bombings of Israeli towns and cities.

Israeli officials say half of those killed were terrorists, but the dead include many women and children.

For the first time, Israel fired artillery into Gaza to strike rocket storage areas, while Israeli navy gunboats shelled targets along the coast.

Twenty-six Palestinians died Tuesday in Israeli raids. Five Israelis have died in the fighting, including a soldier and a civilian contractor killed Tuesday.

Israeli warplanes also dropped leaflets over Gaza, urging residents to seek shelter in Gaza City. The leaflets said the Israeli army “is not targeting any of you and does not want to harm you or your families.”

Meanwhile, thousands of Israeli soldiers remain deployed on the border with Gaza, awaiting orders to invade the Palestinian territory or stand down.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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