“Israel has a right to defend itself,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told opposition leader Tzipi Livni in New York this weekend, as Israel’s southern cities dealt with a barrage of rockets and missiles from Gaza.
Livni, who along with Clinton was attending Newsweek’s Women in the World conference, thanked Clinton for her support and said, “The international community must present a sharp and clear front in opposition to terrorism against citizens in the south, and Israel must continue its work to stop Qassam rocket launches.”
More than 130 rockets have been launched from Gaza over the past 48 hours, sending residents of Israel’s southern cities running to bomb shelters and prompting the cancelation of classes, holiday events and large gatherings of more than 500 people or more.
The violence began when Israel assassinated Zuhair al-Kaisi, a leader of the terrorist group Popular Resistance Committees. The IDF says they had evidence Kaisi was in the process of plotting a large-scale terrorist attack on Israeli civilians. Soon after his death, retaliatory rocket barrages began raining down on Israel’s southern communities.
Other world leaders also condemned the events. “The United States is deeply concerned about the renewed violence in the region,” U.S State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton joined the call to restore calm and both the U.S. and EU sent messages to Jerusalem to prevent an escalation of the violence.
Meanwhile, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is scheduled to host mediators from the Quartet on Middle East Peace - which consists of the U.S., Russia, the U.N. and the EU - in New York on Monday to discuss the status of talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
The U.N. press office on Friday said Ban, Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov would meet at U.N. headquarters ahead of a special U.N. Security Council session on the Arab Spring uprisings slated for March 12. The other Quartet principals - Ashton and Quartet envoy Tony Blair - will participate via video link.
It was unclear whether the group planned to issue a statement to encourage a resumption of talks between the Israelis and Palestinians, an issue that has been overshadowed by the debate between Israel and Washington over a possible military strike on Iran due to Tehran’s nuclear program.
Driven by internal quarrels, the Palestinians have struggled to make their voice heard in recent months. World attention has shifted to the U.S. presidential elections, the escalating violence in Syria and Iran’s nuclear program.
In Israel last month, Ban said that Israel and the Palestinians were running out of time to solve their conflict and ought to give the highest priority to resuming peace talks.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, as a precondition for negotiations, has demanded that Israel agrees to the establishment of a Palestinian state on all lands occupied during the 1967 Arab-Israel war.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has refused to accept that request and has balked at Palestinian demands to freeze Israeli settlement activities on lands the Palestinians want for a future state.