WASHINGTON – The United States on Sunday sharpened its criticism of Hamas and urged the militant Palestinian group to accept a cease-fire agreement that would halt nearly two weeks of fighting with Israel.
Calling it an "ugly" situation, Secretary of State John Kerry said Israel has a right to defend itself against frequent rocket attacks by Hamas from the Gaza Strip. He also accused Hamas of attempting to sedate and kidnap Israelis through a network of tunnels that militants have used to stage cross-border raids.
"No country could sit by and not take steps to try to deal with people who are sending thousands of rockets your way," Kerry said.
He said Hamas 'must step up and show a level of reasonableness, and they need to accept the offer of a cease-fire, and then we will certainly discuss all of the issues relevant to the underlying crisis."
The nearly two-week conflict has killed more than 400 Palestinians and seven Israelis, and appeared to be escalating as U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon headed to the region to try to revive cease-fire efforts.
Kerry said he was planning to meet soon with Ban and was ready to travel to the region immediately if needed.
The U.S. is pushing a cease-fire proposal that was first offered by Egypt, and which Israel supports. Hamas, which controls Gaza, has rejected the proposal and is relying on governments in Qatar and Turkey to develop an alternative plan.
Qatar and Turkey have ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, which is also linked to Hamas but banned in Egypt.
Kerry did not mention the Qatari or Turkish efforts but said any cease-fire agreement must be without conditions or "any rewards for terrorist behavior."
The top U.S. diplomat also blamed the latest wave of violence on what he called Israel's "legitimate" efforts to pursue and punish those who last month kidnapped and killed three Israeli teenagers whose bodies were found in the West Bank.
Their deaths were followed almost immediately by what authorities believe was a retribution attack on a Palestinian youth who was strangled, beaten and burned to death.
Tensions between Israel and Palestinian authorities have been simmering for years. They threatened to boil over this spring when Israel shelved nearly nine months of peace negotiations that were being personally shepherded by Kerry after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas agreed to create a unity government with Hamas.
"It's ugly. War is ugly," Kerry said. "And bad things are going to happen. But they (Hamas) need to recognize their own responsibility."
Kerry spoke Sunday on all five major news network talks shows: NBC's "Meet the Press," CNN's "State of the Union," ABC's "This Week," CBS's "Face the Nation," and "Fox News Sunday."
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