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September 20, 2017

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Kerry goes to Israel on a mission of truce

JERUSALEM -- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry took his truce mission to Israel Wednesday as the conflict in Gaza entered its 16th day and world airlines suspended flights over rocket fears.

As air traffic thinned over Tel Aviv airport, Kerry flew in from Cairo for whirlwind talks in Jerusalem and Ramallah, despite a U.S. aviation warning on flights into Israel after a rocket struck near the runway a day earlier.

And there was no let-up in the violence, with neither Israel nor Hamas showing willingness to end hostilities, despite days of diplomatic efforts to coax them into a truce.

Gaza's emergency services said that at least 21 people were killed Wednesday, hiking the Palestinian death toll to 652, while the army announced another two soldiers had been killed in fighting a day earlier, raising the number of Israeli dead to 31, including 29 soldiers.

And a foreign worker in southern Israel died on Wednesday after being hit by mortar fire from the Gaza Strip, police said.

On the ground, Saint Prophyrios Greek Orthodox church in Gaza City was packed to overflowing as hundreds of people, mostly women and children, sought shelter after escaping the inferno of neighboring areas like Shejaiya.

"Many of them, their houses are destroyed. Many people have been injured or killed. So we try to help these people," said Archbishop Alexios, one of Gaza's 1,500 Christians.

Some Progress, More Needed

At the start of a flying visit to Israel, Kerry said that regional diplomacy efforts had made some progress but said more time was needed.

"We have certainly made some steps forward, but there is still work to be done," Kerry said in Jerusalem at the start of a meeting with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon whom he also met in Cairo on Monday.

The U.N. chief warned there was no time to lose.

"We are now joining our forces in strength to make a ceasefire as soon as possible," he said.

Kerry then went to the West Bank city of Ramallah for talks with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, and was later return to Tel Aviv for talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He was expected to return to Cairo in the evening.

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