U.S. sees ‘progress’ in Gaza truce bid

AFP-JIJI

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has “made some progress” in complicated talks to try to reach a ceasefire in Gaza, his department said Thursday.

“We know we’re not there yet. But I think we have made some progress,” said deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf.

“The secretary is very engaged in it. And hopefully soon we’ll be able to get something temporary in place.”

She refused to be drawn further, including whether the U.S. was still trying to put in place a 24-hour truce or something longer, nor would she be drawn on how much longer the negotiations would take.

Progress is “always hard to quantify, but we believe we are getting closer,” Harf told reporters.

International concern is mounting over the death toll in Gaza, where 1,437 people have been killed in 24 days of violence, and over the extent of the destruction.

Despite being overseas in India, Kerry has been “racking up quite a phone bill to the Middle East,” Harf said.

The top U.S. diplomat had spoken numerous times Thursday with his Qatari counterpart, as well as with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the U.N. special envoy for the Middle East Robert Serry.

The U.N. Security Council has called for humanitarian pauses in Gaza and renewed its appeal for an immediate ceasefire, even though repeated appeals for a truce have gone unheeded.

The Israeli army has mobilized another 16,000 reservists, hiking the total number called up to 86,000. Israel does not say how many troops are currently fighting inside the Gaza Strip.

Harf also defended the Pentagon’s decision to allow Israel to dip into U.S. ammunition stores to restock their soldiers, saying it would not prolong the fighting.

“The strategic and tactical decision the Israelis make about whether to accept a ceasefire and enter into one I don’t think is influenced by whether we give them some ammunition tank rounds,” she insisted.