Obama Sends Hillary Clinton to Middle East for Gaza Talks

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, May 19, 2009.©2009 Richard A. Bloom

President Obama is sending Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the Middle East in hopes of finding a resolution to the conflict brewing in Gaza, the White House said on Tuesday.

The week-old clash between Israel and Hamas, volleying hundreds of rockets and killing dozens of civilians, could escalate into a ground battle, something Western nations, including the U.S. and Britain have warned against.

But on Tuesday, Clinton departed from Phonm Penh, Cambodia, where she and the president have been attending the East Asia Summit, meeting leaders from China and Japan, among others. She will be joined by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and will visit Jerusalem, Ramallah and Cairo.

Clinton will first meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli officials to get an update on the situation in Gaza, the White House says. Obama senior adviser Ben Rhodes said a peace process "could reopen the path to fulfill the aspirations of Palestinians and Israelis for two states living side by side in peace and security." Clinton will also warn against further civilian deaths.

The president has said that he hopes both sides can come to an agreement, with the predicate that Hamas cease its rocket fire, which the White House says started the conflict.

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"At the same time, I think we all agree that the best way to solve this is through diplomacy so that you have a peaceful settlement that ends that rocket fire and allows for a broader calm in the region," Rhodes said.

Ban on Tuesday called the conflict on Gaza "alarming."

"This must stop, immediate steps are needed to avoid further escalation, including a ground operation," Ban said, according to the Associated Press. "Both sides must hold fire immediately"¦ Further escalation of the situation could put the entire region at risk."

Obama and Clinton had been hitting the telephones, calling officials in the region, including Netanyahu and Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi to discuss the conflict.