POLITICS

Marco Rubio, Bob Menendez Urge Latin American Presidents To Restore Diplomatic Relations With Israel

Smoke and fire from the explosion of an Israeli strike rise over Gaza City,  Tuesday,  July 29, 2014. Israel escalated its military campaign against Hamas on Tuesday, striking symbols of the group's control in Gaza and firing tank shells that shut down the strip's only power plant in the heaviest bombardment in the fighting so far. The plants shutdown was bound to lead to further serious disruptions of the flow of electricity and water to Gazas 1.7 million people. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

Smoke and fire from the explosion of an Israeli strike rise over Gaza City, Tuesday, July 29, 2014. Israel escalated its military campaign against Hamas on Tuesday, striking symbols of the group's control in Gaza and firing tank shells that shut down the strip's only power plant in the heaviest bombardment in the fighting so far. The plants shutdown was bound to lead to further serious disruptions of the flow of electricity and water to Gazas 1.7 million people. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

Four members of the U.S. Senate are urging Latin American presidents to restore diplomatic relations with Israel, calling it crucial to encouraging peace in the Middle East.

U.S. senators Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Bob Menendez, D-N.J., Mark Kirk, R-Ill. And James Risch, R-Idaho, wrote to the presidents of Brazil, Peru, Chile, Ecuador, and El Salvador, telling them to return their ambassadors to Israel. Those nations recalled their ambassadors as a show of their opposition to Israel’s military strikes in Gaza.

“We are deeply disappointed by your government’s decision to recall your ambassador to Israel ‘in protest’ against Israel’s legitimate military operations to restore deterrence against rocket attacks and terrorist tunnels designed by Hamas to kill Israeli civilians,” the senators wrote.

“Hamas is a terrorist organization committed to using violence as a political tool and denying Israel’s right to exist. Hamas leaders have violated international law by promoting the use of civilians as human shields, and have rejected multiple cease fire offers that could save lives on both sides of this conflict.”

A senior Hamas official says a cease-fire has been reached with Israel to end a seven-week war that has killed more than 2,000 people Palestinians, according to Gaza officials. The fighting has leveled thousands of buildings and left tens of thousands of people homeless.

The Hamas official said the deal calls for an "open-ended" cease-fire, and an Israeli agreement to ease its blockade of Gaza to allow relief supplies and construction materials into the war-battered territory.

Talks on deeper issues, such as Hamas' demand to reopen Gaza's airport and seaport, would begin in a month.

The official said Egypt planned an announcement later Tuesday. He spoke on condition of anonymity pending the announcement.

There was no immediate Israeli comment.

The death toll on the Israeli side has been much lower, largely because of Israel's network of air raid sirens, bomb shelters and the Iron Dome missile-defense system.

Yet Israel's defenses have been largely ineffective against short-range mortar fire - a deficiency underscored when a 4-year-old boy was killed Friday by a Palestinian mortar shell.

“All loss of innocent lives during this conflict is tragic,” the senators said, “but your government’s decision to downgrade diplomatic relations with Israel at this critical time will only embolden Hamas leaders to continue on the current course of indiscriminate rocket attacks against Israeli civilians rather than working with the Israeli government to achieve a sustainable cease fire arrangement.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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