Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Obama calls Egyptian president third time in 24 hours

Nov 20, 2012

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NBC's Domenico Montanaro reports on what the continued fighting in Gaza could mean politically for President Obama, U.S. foreign policy, and the balance of power in the Middle East.
By NBC's Shawna Thomas

YAKOTA AFB, Japan — President Barack Obama spoke with Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi for the third time in a 24-hour period while flying back from a trip to southeast Asia aboard Air Force One.

Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said the call was to continue the discussions both presidents have had about Egypt's ability to help end the rocket-fire in Gaza.

"He also underscored that President Morsi's efforts reinforce the important role that President Morsi and Egypt play on behalf of regional security and the pursuit of broader peace between the Palestinians and Israelis," Rhodes said of the call, which occurred en route a refueling stop in Japan following Obama's three-day trip overseas.
This call comes as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton makes her way to the region to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, along with Palestinian and Egyptian leaders. It is unclear about whether she will sit down with Morsi while in the Middle East.

Rhodes said the president has made clear that the primary objective at this moment is the deescalation of violence, and commended Morsi for sharing that goal.

"Without an end to rocket fire into Israel from Gaza, Israel can't be assured of the security of its people," Rhodes said.

The president believes the "preferred outcome" of all of the leaders involved is an end to the loss of life in the region.

Israel and Hamas agree to Gaza cease-fire

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While Israel and Palestinian factions trade fire, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrives in the region to broker a truce. NBC's Ayman Mohyeldin reports.

By NBC News staff and wire reports
Updated at 1:11 p.m. ET: Israel and Hamas have agreed to a cease-fire, the Egyptian foreign minister said Wednesday, ending eight days of fighting that killed more than 140 Palestinians and five Israelis.
The cease-fire is set to start at 9 p.m. Cairo time (2 p.m. ET), Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr announced in a news conference alongside visiting U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
“The United States welcomes the agreement today for the cease-fire in Gaza," Clinton said, adding that Egypt's new government was exerting responsibility and leadership in the region.
Clinton also thanked Egypt's Islamist President Mohammed Morsi for his mediation efforts and pledged to work with partners in the region "to consolidate this progress, improve conditions for the people of Gaza, provide security for the people of Israel.""This is a critical moment for the region," she said.
According to the cease-fire agreement: 
  1. Israel will stop attacks on Gaza by land, sea and air and targeted assassinations; 
  2. Israel and Hamas will abide to restoring calm on both sides; 
  3. Israel will ease the movement of people and goods at border-crossing areas.
In Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed the agreement.
Egypt is "the sponsor" of the cease-fire agreement.
Earlier, an explosion on a bus in Tel Aviv injured 19 people, three of them seriously, an official told NBC News.

Tel Aviv police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told the U.K.'s Sky News that the bus blast took place in the heart of the city and that the surrounding area had been cordoned off as police searched for suspects.

"At the moment, we're looking to see exactly what was the cause of the explosion itself," Rosenfeld said, adding it might have been caused by a device left on the bus or taken on by a passenger.

"This was a terrorist attack," Ofir Gendelman, a spokesman for Netanyahu, told Reuters.

The White House condemned the attack as "outrageous." In a statement, it reaffirmed the United States' "unshakable commitment to Israel's security and our deep friendship and solidarity with the Israeli people."

Shot dead, dragged through the streets: The fate of an alleged spy in Gaza

Clinton arrived in Cairo on Wednesday, where she met with Morsi. Speaking earlier in Jerusalem, she assured Netanyahu of "rock-solid" U.S. support for Israel's security and spoke of seeking a "durable outcome" and of Egypt's "responsibility" for promoting peace.

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A bomb ripped through a bus in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, wounding at least 16 people. NBC's Stephanie Gosk reports.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri praised the bombing, but stopped short of claiming responsibility.

"Hamas blesses the attack in Tel Aviv and sees it as a natural response to the Israeli Gaza," he told Reuters. "Palestinian factions will resort to all means in order to protect our Palestinian civilians in the absence of a world effort to stop the Israeli aggression."

More photos: Explosion hits bus in Tel Aviv

Sweet cakes were handed out in celebration in Gaza's main hospital, which has been inundated with wounded from the round-the-clock Israeli bombing and shelling, Reuters reported. Celebratory gunfire also rang out in Gaza City when local radio stations reported the news.

The last time Israel's commercial capital was hit by a serious bomb blast was in April 2006, when a Palestinian suicide bomber killed 11 people at a sandwich stand near the city's old central bus station.

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Like most Western powers, Washington shuns Hamas as an obstacle to peace and has blamed it for the Gaza conflagration.

A U.N. Security Council statement condemning the conflict was blocked on Tuesday by the United States, which complained that it "failed to address the root cause" -- the Palestinian rockets.

Meanwhile, the head of Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard has disclosed his country has given fighters in Gaza the ability to produce longer-range missiles on their own, without direct shipments. The comments, by Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, quoted by the semi-official ISNA news agency, offer some of the clearest insights on Iran's weapons support for Hamas.

NBC's Lawahez Jabari, Ian Johnston and Andy Eckardt, Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.Previously, Iran denied it directly supplied Hamas with the Fajr-5 rockets being fired at Israel in recent days.

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