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Kerry resumes attempts to broker Mideast cease-fire, both sides mourn losses

July 23, 2014 at 6:11 PM EST
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GWEN IFILL: The fighting between Hamas and Israel continued today, as America’s top diplomat shuttled between Israeli and Palestinian leaders, attempting to broker a cease-fire. More than 680 Palestinians and 34 Israelis have now been killed since the fighting began July 8.

Secretary of State John Kerry landed in Tel Aviv, his Air Force jet exempt from the FAA ban shutting down U.S. flights there. He met first with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, and suggested there’s been some progress toward a cease-fire.

JOHN KERRY, Secretary of State: We’re working hard. And I’m not going to get into the characterizing, but we have certainly made some steps forward.

GWEN IFILL: From there, he headed to the West Bank, and talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

JOHN KERRY: We’re doing this for one simple reason. The people in the Palestinian territories, the people in Israel are all living under the threat or reality of immediate violence. And this needs to end for everybody.

GWEN IFILL: And then back to Tel Aviv for a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Amid all the shuttling — even Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke with Netanyahu by phone today — hundreds of Palestinians were also on the move, pouring out of the southern Gaza town of Khan Yunis. They were fleeing heavy Israeli air and artillery strikes, and there were reports of many people still trapped.

WOMAN (through interpreter): They were firing from tanks next to our house. We were stuck in the house. We called the ambulance and the firefighters. None came to help us.

GWEN IFILL: In Rafah, hundreds took part in a funeral procession for five Palestinians killed by overnight airstrikes.

And, in Jerusalem, thousands attended the funeral of Israeli soldier Max Steinberg. The 24-year-old man from California was killed in fighting on Sunday. Violence also spread to the West Bank, where a Palestinian man was killed in fighting with Israeli soldiers in Bethlehem.

Meanwhile, Hamas rocket fire killed a foreign worker near Ashkelon in Southern Israel. The rocket threat prompted more airlines to call off flights into Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport.

President Shimon Peres urged them to reconsider.

PRESIDENT SHIMON PERES, Israel: May I say I regret that airlines have suspended flights. The real answer to the danger of flying is not to stop the flights, but to stop the rockets which are endangering the flight.

GWEN IFILL: But the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, held both sides responsible for the rapidly rising death toll.

NAVI PILLAY, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: I unequivocally reiterate to all actors in this conflict that civilians must not be targeted. Not abiding by these principles may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

GWEN IFILL: Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni answered the allegation with two words on her Facebook page: “Get lost.”

Late today, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal called for the world to force an end to the Israeli offensive and to the economic blockade of Gaza.