Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Gaza’s Hamas leaders to choose between peace and “the sword” on Tuesday as a diplomatic push intensified to end a week of violence in and around the strip.
“Our hand is outstretched in peace to those of our neighbors who want to make peace with us,” Netanyahu said in a statement issued moments before militants said a truce would be announced in Cairo later on Tuesday evening.
“And the other hand is firmly grasping the sword of David against those who wish to uproot us from this country,” he added in reference to the biblical warrior king.
About two hours after a rocket fired from Gaza crashed south of Jerusalem, causing no injuries but inciting temporary panic, Netanyahu said that constant pounding by the Israeli air force had exerted a heavy toll on the Hamas arsenal.
“We have already destroyed thousands of rockets and missiles aimed at Israeli citizens, including most of the long-range rockets,” he said. “We continue to attack Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the rest of the terror groups.”
He spoke as U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon arrived for talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was expected to fly in overnight.
Meanwhile, the United States on Tuesday blocked a U.N. Security Council statement on the Gaza conflict, arguing that it would have been “counter-productive” amid efforts to reach a ceasefire.
Russia had threatened to press for a full council resolution on the conflict if the Arab-proposed statement was blocked. That could have led to a veto clash with the United States.
But, with Egyptian-led truce efforts gathering pace, diplomats said Moscow’s initiative would be dropped, though the Russian mission made no immediate announcement.
The United States sent a letter to the 14 other council missions just before a Tuesday deadline for the statement to take effect, diplomats told AFP.
Diplomats quoted the U.S. letter as saying the proposed resolution “failed to address the root cause” of the showdown between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers, which it said was rocket attacks into Israel.
The U.S. letter called the statement “counter-productive” and added that it was “failing to contribute to diplomacy.”
Israel has said its six-day old series of strikes in which more than 120 Palestinians have been killed is a response to the rocket attacks for the six day offensive. Three Israelis have been killed in a rocket attack from Gaza.
Hamas has indicated that a truce could start later Tuesday, which reduces the pressure for Security Council action, but Israel has not confirmed this.
Russia had said Monday that if the Security Council failed to agree a statement by Tuesday then it would put a resolution -- a stronger move by the council than a statement -- to a vote.
The resolution would call for an end to hostilities, support regional efforts to broker peace and call for renewed Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
Some diplomats said the United States would probably use its power as a permanent member of the Security Council to veto the resolution.
The United States generally blocks any resolution criticizing its Israeli ally at the Security Council.
Palestinian and some Arab diplomats have strongly criticized the council for failing to speak on the Gaza crisis. The council held an emergency meeting last Wednesday but took no action.