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Can Kerry sell cease-fire as Abbas backs Hamas demands?

John Kerry's unannounced visit to Jerusalem and the West Bank today comes as the PA's Abbas voices support for Hamas's condition of ending Gaza economic blockade.

Charles Dharapak/Reuters
US Secretary of State John Kerry (l.) meets Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah July 23, 2014.

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Less than 24 hours after the Federal Aviation Administration halted flights in and out of Israel's Ben-Gurion International Airport, US Secretary of State John Kerry landed in Tel Aviv in a bid to curb fighting and push a cease-fire.

Mr. Kerry will spend the day in Jerusalem and in the West Bank, and will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, according to The New York Times.

The peripatetic Kerry, who logged many hours in Jerusalem and Ramallah over the past year in a failed attempt to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, faces skepticism that he can make a difference now. He's trying to curb fighting that has killed more than 600 Palestinians and 29 Israelis over the past two weeks. “Worse may yet lie ahead,” the Times of Israel said on its site today.

“We have certainly made some steps forward, but there is still work to be done,” Kerry said after meeting with Mr. Ban in Jerusalem, Agence France-Presse reports.

There is little to suggest that any side is willing to yield, despite growing casualties.

Kerry will face a freshly determined Mr. Abbas in Ramallah, who today formally endorsed core cease-fire demands by Hamas, including an end to the economic blockade of Gaza, Reuters reports:

The Palestinian decision-making body led by U.S.-backed Abbas on Wednesday endorsed demands by Hamas for halting Gaza hostilities with Israel, a closing of ranks that may help Egyptian-mediated truce efforts.

Egypt has tried to get both sides to hold fire and then negotiate terms for protracted calm in Gaza, which has been rocked by regular bouts of violence since Israel unilaterally pulled out of the territory in 2005.

Hamas, which refuses to recognize Israel's right to exist, has baulked at Cairo's offer, saying it wanted assurances of relief from an Israeli-Egyptian blockade and other concessions. The dispute was further complicated by distrust between Egypt under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Hamas.

In a move that could effectively turn Abbas into the main Palestinian point person for a Gaza truce, his umbrella Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) on Wednesday formally supported core conditions set by the Hamas-led fighters.

The Christian Science Monitor’s Jerusalem bureau chief, Christa Case Bryant, reports that Israeli public opinion is firmly behind the Gaza operation, which aims to destroy tunnels into Israel and end Hamas rocket fire: According to one July 20 poll, 80 percent of Israeli Jews support the operation, and 77 percent are opposed to a cease-fire. 

Israel has lost at least 28 of its soldiers just four days into the Gaza ground operation, nearly triple the number of soldiers killed in its last such incursion. That makes this the deadliest fighting for the Israeli military since 2006, when it fought a month-long war with Hezbollah in Lebanon.

At funerals across the country, mourners have gathered to remember the fallen soldiers – including nearly 20,000 people who came to honor dual citizen Staff Sgt. Nissim Sean Carmeli of Texas. 

But despite the casualties and nationally shared grief, Israel shows no sign of letting up in Gaza.

In a country that has been almost perpetually in conflict with its neighbors since its founding, soldiers and civilians alike resist giving in to one’s enemies, on the principle that doing so invites worse calamities down the line. For now at least, Israelis are not faltering in their support for an operation the government says was necessary after it exhausted all other options to crush Hamas’s offensive capabilities.

In Gaza, The Christian Science Monitor correspondent Kristen Chick reports that Palestinians are determined to hold out for their demands for a cease-fire, to the point of choosing war over an end to Israeli aerial and ground strikes.

Abed Akara fled his house near Gaza's southeastern border with Israel on Friday, the morning after Israel launched a ground operation here. When he saw the tanks advancing and shelling homes, he gathered his wife and eight children and they ran for their lives.

He can't go home, nor does he know if he will have a home left to return to. Yet Mr. Akara says that if he could choose between an immediate stop to the killing and continued resistance by Hamas in order to wring cease-fire concessions from Israel, the choice is simple: “war.”

Many Palestinians in Gaza appear to agree with Akara. That apparent willingness to endure a longer war as Hamas battles a much stronger enemy is a powerful indication of how desperate many have become over the past year in this coastal enclave, particularly after Egypt closed its border with Gaza.

“No human wants any round of violence to last any longer,” Suleiman Baraka, whose 11-year-old son was killed in a previous conflict between Israel and Hamas in 2009 told the Monitor. But, he says, "the trend here is to live in dignity or die.”

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