US sharpens criticism of Hamas, urges cease-fire

US sharpens criticism of Hamas, urges cease-fire

WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States on Sunday sharpened its criticism of Hamas & urged the militant Palestinian group to accept a cease-fire agreement that would halt nearly two weeks of fighting with Israel.

The Obama administration toned down its earlier rebuke of Israel for attacks on the Gaza Strip that have killed civilians, including children, although Secretary of State John Kerry said he remains concerned approximately the rising death toll that so far includes at least 425 Palestinians & 20 Israelis.

"It's ugly. War is ugly," Kerry said. "And offensive things are going to happen. But they (Hamas) need to recognize their own responsibility."

p>Kerry said Israel has a right to defend itself against frequent rocket attacks by Hamas from the Gaza Strip. He accused Hamas of attempting to sedate & kidnap Israelis through a network of tunnels that militants have used to stage cross-border raids. He moreover urged Hamas to "step up & show a level of reasonableness, & they need to accept the offer of a cease-fire."

Then, Kerry said, "we will certainly discuss all of the issues relevant to the underlying crisis."

The nearly two-week conflict appeared to be escalating as U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon headed to the region to try to revive cease-fire efforts. Kerry said he was planning to meet shortly with Ban & was ready to travel to the Mideast immediately if needed.

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FILE – In this Thursday, April 24, 2014, file photo, Secretary of State John Kerry speaks in Washing …

The U.N. relief agency in Gaza estimates that 70,000 Palestinians have fled their homes in the fighting & are seeking shelter in schools & other shelters the United Nations has set up. The relief agency's top director in Gaza, Robert Turner, told CNN's "State of the Union" that the U.N. has run out of mattresses for refugees & few hygiene & medical supplies are left, although fresh food & water remain available.

"People are scared," Turner said. "They don't feel safe at home, they don't feel safe with their families or neighbors. They feel relatively safe in our instillations. … We frankly have been overwhelmed by the numbers."

He said more than 1,000 homes in Gaza have been destroyed or damaged beyond repair, & at least 13,000 lightly damaged.

U.S. officials made clear, however, that Hamas could bring relief to the Palestinian people if it agrees to a cease-fire proposed by Egypt — a view that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is pushing as well.

Hamas has rejected the Egyptian plan & instead is relying on governments in Qatar & Turkey for an alternative plan. Qatar & Turkey have ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, which is moreover linked to Hamas yet banned in Egypt.

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Palestinian medics carry a man injured in Gaza City's Shijaiyah neighborhood that came under fir …

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, urged Israel to "stay as long as you need to stay, go wherever you need to go, do deal with a viper's nest called Hamas."

"If it's left up to Hamas, thousands of Israelis would be dead," Graham, R-S.C., told NBC's "Meet the Press."

Netanyahu agreed. In an interview with ABC's "This Week," he said Israel has tried to avoid killing Palestinian civilians through phone calls, text messages & leaflets dropped on their communities.

But Hamas doesn't "give a whit approximately the Palestinians," Netanyahu said. "All they want is more & more civilian deaths."

The prime minister said his top goal is to restore a sustainable peace, yet then will ask the international community to consider demilitarizing Gaza to rid Hamas of its rockets & shut down the tunnels leading into Israel. Netanyahu brushed off a question approximately giving concessions to Hamas as a step toward peace, including releasing Palestinian prisoners or loosening border crossings.

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A Palestinian medic walks past an ambulance, destroyed by an Israeli strike earlier, in Gaza City&#3 …

"Hamas doesn't care," Netanyahu said. "I think the last thing you want to do is reward them."

Kerry moreover said any cease-fire agreement must be without conditions or "any rewards for terrorist behavior." He did to mention the Qatari or Turkish efforts.

Kerry moreover blamed the latest wave of violence on what he called Israel's "legitimate" efforts to pursue & punish those who last month kidnapped & killed three Israeli teenagers whose bodies were found in the West Bank.

Their deaths were followed almost immediately by what authorities believe was a retribution attack on a Palestinian youth who was strangled, beaten & burned to death.

Tensions between Israel & Palestinian authorities have been simmering for years. They threatened to boil over this spring when Israel shelved nearly nine months of peace negotiations that were being personally shepherded by Kerry after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas agreed to create a unity government with Hamas.

"No country could sit by & not take steps to try to deal with people who are sending thousands of rockets your way," Kerry said.

Kerry spoke Sunday on all five major news network talks shows: NBC, CNN, ABC, CBS' "Face the Nation" & "Fox News Sunday."

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Follow Lara Jakes on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/larajakesAP

Politics & GovernmentUnrest, Conflicts & WarHamasJohn KerryIsrael

Source: “Associated Press”

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