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Oil steady as diplomats seek cease-fire in Israel-Hamas fighting in Gaza

Diplomatic efforts to broker a cease-fire in Gaza intensified but no deal was announced Wednesday to halt the fighting between Israel and Islamic militant group Hamas, keeping oil prices in a holding pattern.

Benchmark oil for January delivery was unchanged at $86.75 at midday Bangkok time in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell $2.53 to finish at $86.75 per barrel on Tuesday on signs that a deal between the two warring sides might be close.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was hastily dispatched to the region by President Barack Obama to join a group of world leaders working to halt the violence.

The possibility of a disruption in oil supplies when violence in the Middle East spikes often translates into higher crude prices. But the conflict in Gaza hasn't weighed heavily on prices so far since neither Israel nor the Palestinian territories are oil exporters.

Additionally, traders have said for weeks that inventories are ample, in part because of the global growth slowdown that has weakened demand for energy.

Analysts at CME Group say they expect this week's inventory data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration to show "another build in crude oil supplies in the range of 750,000 to 1.0 million barrels."

Brent crude, which is used to price international varieties of oil, rose 17 cents to $109.99 a barrel in London.

Other energy futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange:

— Heating oil rose 0.8 cent to $3.057 a gallon.

— Wholesale gasoline rose 1 cent to $2.698 per gallon.

— Natural gas fell 0.4 cent to $3.796 per 1,000 cubic feet.