The Cable

Death Toll Spikes in Gaza With No End in Sight

Secretary of State John Kerry called on Hamas to put down arms to stop the ground war in Gaza, but in a candid moment seemed frustrated that Israel's offensive was causing so many civilian deaths.

In a round of Sunday morning interviews, Kerry focused on what Hamas should do to put an end to the nearly two-week long conflict that killed at least 60 more Palestinians Sunday. At least 13 Israeli soldiers were killed in the fighting Sunday, bringing the military's death toll so far to 18.

The intensity of the combat in Gaza -- and he growing civilian death toll -- brought the first significant criticism of Israel by Arab governments, who had surprised and angered many Palestinians because of their relative silence on the combat. On Sunday, though, the head of the Arab League blasted the Israeli offensive as "war crime" and a "dangerous escalation."

The reticence stems from the fact that regional leaders -- particularly in Egypt -- quietly share Israel's hatred of Hamas and hope to see the group's military capabilities significantly degraded.

In his comments on the Sunday shows, Kerry indicated that Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza, deserved the bulk of the blame for its barrages of rockets into Israel and for rejecting an Egyptian cease-fire offer to the two sides.

"What they need to do is stop rocketing Israel and accept the ceasefire," Kerry said on ABC's "This Week."

"Hamas has to understand, you can't just sit there and claim a moral rectitude or the higher ground while you're busy rocketing people and capturing people and digging tunnels to attack them and this has to stop," Kerry said.

But in a phone conversation, caught on tape by Fox News before an interview, Kerry seemed to criticize Israel's operation for hitting civilians in what was supposed to be a targeted strike to close down tunnels that Hamas fighters burrowed into Israel. More than 400 Palestinians have died in the fighting, the majority civilians.

"It's a hell of a pinpoint operation," Kerry said, on a cell phone call, apparently unaware that his microphone was already on. When confronted by Fox host Chris Wallace, Kerry didn't back away from his comments.

"It's tough to have these kind of operations. I reacted, obviously, in a way that anybody does with respect to young children and civilians," Kerry said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, also speaking on "This Week," said that his government warned Palestinian civilians to leave Gaza with leaflets, phone calls and text messages, but Hamas urged them to stay.

"We regret any civilian deaths but those lay entirely at Hamas' door," Netanyahu said.

Kerry said the Obama administration is considering what to do next, and whether or not he should go to the Middle East to try to help broker a ceasefire.

"We have been working very closely with all of the parties and in touch with them and if the president deems that this is the moment that is appropriate, we will go immediately," Kerry said on CBS's "Face the Nation."


The Cable

Iran, U.S. Agree to Postpone Nuclear Deal Until Late November

The United States, Iran, and five other major powers said late Friday that they would extend the high-stakes talks over Iran's nuclear program for four months while negotiators try to close what both sides acknowledge to be major divides over several issues.

Iran and the so-called P5+1 countries -- the United States, Britain, Russia, France, China, and Germany -- signed a deal in Geneva last November that effectively froze Iran's uranium enrichment program in exchange for a modest loosening of the West's punishing economic sanctions on Tehran. The two sides set a July 20 deadline for striking a permanent deal.

It has become clear for weeks that the deadline will not be met and that an extension is likely; the Obama administration and the government of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani have both invested so much time and political capital that neither would want to walk away from the negotiating table and fully concede that the efforts had failed.

Obama administration officials insist that the talks have made major progress that justify giving negotiators until November to pursue a final deal. In a statement, Secretary of State John Kerry said, "The very real prospect of reaching a good agreement that achieves our objectives necessitates that we seek more time."

Still, Kerry and other administration officials acknowledge that major gaps remain. Iran, according to a new proposal put forth by Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, would be willing to maintain the current near-total freeze on its uranium enrichment program for seven years but then wants the ability to resume larger-scale enrichment. The United States wants Iran to permanently dismantle major parts of its nuclear infrastructure and accept long-term limits on the amounts of uranium it can enrich.

It's far from clear those gaps can be bridged, but both sides have apparently concluded that it's worth the attempt, at least for four months. Come November, it will be clear if that optimism was justified.

Photo by ADEM ALTAN/AFP/Getty Images