Kerry says gaps remain as he presses Gaza truce

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Cairo (AFP) - US Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday that more work was needed to reach a ceasefire to end the bloodshed in Gaza as he worked the phones with key players.

As the deadly shelling of a UN school serving as a Palestinian shelter prompted fresh regional outrage, Kerry reached out to diplomats from a hotel in Egypt, whose government drafted a proposal to halt the 17-day Hamas-Israel conflict.

"We still have more work to do. I certainly have some work to do tonight," Kerry said as he started a late-night meeting with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, their third this week as both men shuttle the region.

"The tragic incident today, and every day, just underscores the work we are trying to do and what we are trying to achieve," Kerry said.

An unusually forceful Ban voiced anger over the shelling of the UN school in Beit Hanun, which is sheltering some of the 100,000 Palestinians displaced by the conflict. Fifteen Palestinians died, and Ban said UN staff were killed.

"There are many other ways to resolve this issue without killing each other. I am angry about ... what they are doing," Ban said.

- Western sympathy for Israel 'eroding' -

Israel launched the military campaign in response to rocket fire from Hamas, the militant group that controls the Gaza Strip. But aid workers say that most of the nearly 800 dead in the conflict have been Palestinians.

"The sense of sympathy for Israel that was under attack from Hamas rockets 10 days ago is eroding fast as the casualties are mounting in Gaza," said British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, who was also in Cairo.

"It is important that decision makers in Israel understand what is happening with public opinions in Western countries," he told reporters.

For its part, the United States called for greater protection of civilians but did not directly blame ally Israel for the school shelling. Kerry's spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, also condemned the storage of weapons at UN sites, in an allusion to Hamas.

- Seeking formula for deal -

Kerry, who has been in the region since Monday, spoke repeatedly Thursday to the foreign ministers of Qatar and Turkey in the hope that the two countries would use their influence to encourage Hamas to accept a ceasefire plan which the Islamist group has so far rejected, the official said.

Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal is based in Qatar, while Turkey's Islamist-oriented Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has strongly criticised Israel's assault on Hamas-ruled Gaza as well as Egypt's role in trying to clinch a ceasefire.

Kerry also spoke again with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, after meeting him for two hours in Tel Aviv late Wednesday.

Hamas has rejected the ceasefire proposal by Egypt's military-backed government, insisting that Israel end its eight-year siege on the impoverished Gaza Strip.

Diplomats said that an agreement may include a temporary halt to the violence followed by talks on issues dear to Hamas including how to guarantee the opening of Gaza's Rafah border crossing with Egypt.

Kerry also spoke by telephone to Western colleagues including Foreign Minister Boerge Brende of Norway, the chair of the so-called Ad Hoc Liaison Committee which coordinates development aid to the Palestinians.

Norway is working to arrange a new aid conference for September in Oslo, although no final decision has been made, foreign ministry spokesman Frode Andersen said.

After a previous Israeli military campaign in Gaza in 2009, donors met in the Egyptian resort of Sharm El-Sheikh and promised more than $4.4 billion to rebuild the impoverished territory over two years.

But much of the aid was held up, as donor countries refuse to channel money through Hamas while Israel blocked shipments of goods it says could be used in attacks.

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