Cairo: US Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday placed the onus on Hamas to end the conflict raging in Gaza as he worked with Egypt to fine-tune a ceasefire proposal.
The top US diplomat was locked in negotiations in Cairo, where he met twice within 24 hours with both Egypt`s foreign minister and the Palestinian Authority`s intelligence chief to try to end the violence that has killed more than 600 Palestinians and 29 Israelis.
Kerry said a ceasefire proposed by Egypt should serve as a "framework" to end two weeks of bloodshed.
But Hamas, which has been relentlessly firing rockets into Israel, insists the Jewish state lift its eight-year blockade of Gaza before it agrees a truce.
"While we still have work to do, it is clear to each party I met that there is a framework available to end the violence, and that framework was the Egyptian initiative," Kerry said at a press conference after meeting Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
Kerry said he would meet "into the next days in order to work to see if we can find a way forward that ends the violence and then addresses the underlying causes of this crisis."
Egypt, which shares a border with Gaza and Israel, has brokered truces in past conflicts but has had less sway over Hamas after blacklisting the militant movement earlier this year.
The government accuses it of aiding Egypt`s Muslim Brotherhood, which Sisi overthrew last year.
A US official said Kerry privately raised human rights concerns with Egypt, including mass death sentences and the detention of journalists, although he publicly offered praise for the country "transitioning to a democracy."Egyptian officials have publicly ruled out amending their proposal, which calls for a ceasefire first and negotiations later.
A US official took a delicate stance, saying Egypt`s initiative offered "the frame and the forum for discussions" but that "there are a range of options under consideration for a ceasefire."
"Our objective is achieving a ceasefire as quickly as possible and then the parties can have a larger discussion about the key issues. The discussion now is about what will be required to get there," the official said on condition of anonymity.
Kerry, who has invested much of his tenure in an unsuccessful bid for a lasting Middle East peace agreement, again placed the blame for the latest conflict on Hamas.
"For two weeks now, we have seen Hamas launch rocket after rocket at Israeli neighbourhoods," he said.
"Israel responded as any country has the right to do when it is under attack."
Israel has said it will not agree to Hamas`s demands and would end its operation once it destroys tunnels used by the group to infiltrate Israel for attacks.
"First of all, it won`t happen before we really finish the tunnels project which was laid out as a strategic objective," Justice Minister Tzipi Livni told Israeli news website Ynet.
Kerry, who has not put a deadline on his visit, has also spoken by phone in recent days with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, a US official said.
The top US diplomat spoke as well to his counterparts from Qatar and Turkey, which are seen as holding sway over Hamas, along with foreign ministers of France, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.