Majdi Mohammed, Associated Press
JERUSALEM — Egypt's president predicted Tuesday that Israel's nearly weeklong offensive in the Gaza Strip would end within hours, as diplomats from across the world raced across the region to negotiate a cease-fire to end relentless Israeli airstrikes and Palestinian rocket attacks.
Mohammed Morsi, perhaps the most important interlocutor between the militant Hamas group that rules the Palestinian territory and the Israelis, gave no explanation for his statement, saying only that the negotiations between the two sides will yield "positive results" during the coming hours.
President Barack Obama also dispatched Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to the Mideast from Cambodia, where she had accompanied Obama on a visit.
Hours before Morsi spoke, a man identified as Hamas' militant commander urged his fighters to keep up attacks on Israel, and Palestinian militants fired a rocket toward Jerusalem, just minutes before U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon arrived in the holy city. Israeli airstrikes killed a senior militant and five others in a separate attack on a car, according to Gaza health officials.
"This must stop, immediate steps are needed to avoid further escalation, including a ground operation," Ban said from Egypt. "Both sides must hold fire immediately ... Further escalation of the situation could put the entire region at risk."
Clinton is scheduled to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank and Egyptian leaders in Cairo. Turkey's foreign minister and a delegation of Arab League foreign ministers traveled to Gaza on a separate truce mission. Airstrikes continued to hit Gaza even as they entered the territory.
It was unclear how diplomatic efforts to achieve a cease-fire and stave off a threatened Israeli ground invasion into Gaza were hampered by the hard-to-bridge positions staked out by both sides — and by the persistent attacks. Tens of thousands of Israeli soldiers have been dispatched to the Gaza border in case of a decision to invade.
Residents of Jerusalem ran for cover Tuesday when Palestinians fired a rocket toward the holy city for the second time since the fighting started last Wednesday. The rocket, which set off sirens in the city, landed harmlessly in an open area on the outskirts in one of the longest rocket strikes fired from the Gaza.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the rocket landed in Gush Etzion, a collection of Jewish West Bank settlements southeast of the city. Last Friday's attempt to hit Jerusalem, nearly 80 kilometers (50 miles) from Gaza, landed in the same area. No one was wounded in either attack.
Jerusalem had previously been considered beyond the range of Gaza rockets — and an unlikely target because it is home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, Islam's third-holiest shrine. Israeli officials feared Gaza's Hamas rulers will try to stage similar attacks deep into Israel's heartland ahead of any possible truce.
Shortly afterward, an Israeli airstrike destroyed a car in Gaza City killing five people and seriously wounding four others. Their identities were not immediately known.
In a sign of the difficulty diplomats will have in forging such a cease-fire, a man identified as Mohammed Deif, Hamas' elusive military commander, urged his fighters to keep up attacks on Israel.
Speaking from hiding on Hamas-run TV and radio, Deif said Hamas "must invest all resources to uproot this aggressor from our land," a reference to Israel.
Deif is one of the founders of Hamas' military wing and was its top commander until he was seriously wounded in an Israeli airstrike in 2003. He was replaced as the de facto leader by Ahmed Jabari, who was assassinated by Israel last week in the opening salvo of its latest Gaza offensive.
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