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November 20, 2012

Obama sends Clinton to Mideast amid Gaza crisis

(Continued)

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Still, it was unclear what impact Clinton's presence would have on the spiraling violence or whether she was heading to the Mideast with any specific overtures from the U.S.

Rhodes said "there are a number of ideas that are in play," but offered no further details. And he insisted the ramped up U.S. involvement was "a matter of what's in everybody's best interests", not a matter of "leverage."

Obama and Clinton each have held multiple telephone calls with their counterparts in Israel and Egypt, which is at the center of negotiations to quell the violence. Because the U.S. considers Hamas a terrorist organization and prohibits contact between its members and American officials, it is relying on Egypt, as well as Turkey and Qatar, to deliver its message to the Hamas leadership in Gaza.

Israel and Hamas say they are open to diplomatic mediation efforts being led by Egypt, but they are far apart in their demands.

Hamas wants Israel to halt all attacks on Gaza and lift tight restrictions on trade and movement in and out of the territory that have been in place since Hamas seized Gaza by force in 2007. Israel demands an end to rocket fire from Gaza and a halt to weapons smuggling into Gaza through tunnels under the border with Egypt.

The widening conflict has threatened to overshadow Obama's three-country tour of Southeast Asia, his first overseas trip after winning re-election. The president, after a marathon day that took him from Thailand to Myanmar to Cambodia, worked the phones with Mideast leaders into the early hours of Tuesday morning, aides said.

The White House said Obama would stay in contact with the key players in the conflict while Clinton was on the ground. The president is scheduled to depart Cambodia later Tuesday, arriving back in Washington before dawn Wednesday.

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