U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will leave Asia on Tuesday to visit Israel and Egypt, an official said, as the United States pushes to avoid an escalation of the Gaza crisis.
After departing from her trip with President Barack Obama to Southeast Asia, Clinton will meet Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem as well as Egyptian and other Arab leaders in an effort to diffuse the crisis, the official said.
Obama made the decision to send Clinton after speaking to Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and Netanyahu late on Monday night, deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes said.
"Secretary Clinton will emphasize the US interest in a peaceful outcome that protects and enhances Israel's security and regional security," Rhodes said, although he stopped short of calling the trip a mediating mission.
News of Clinton’s visit comes as the Israeli Cabinet convened late Monday night to discuss a ceasefire proposal advanced by Egypt.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also called on Tuesday for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and said an Israeli ground operation would be a "dangerous escalation" that must be avoided.
"All sides must halt fire immediately," Ban said, speaking at a news conference in Cairo.
"Further escalating the situation will put the entire region at risk," he added, sitting alongside Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi after the two had held what Ban described as a "very constructive meeting."
"I'm visiting the region because of the alarming situation in Gaza," he added. "I'm here to appeal personally for an end to the violence."
The secretary-general will travel to Israel later on Tuesday to speak with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmud Abbas.
Egyptian mediators, led by the country’s intelligence chief Gen. Raafat Shehata, have been hosting indirect talks between a Hamas team led by Khaled Meshaal and an Israeli envoy, which an Egyptian official said had produced "encouraging signs" on ending the crisis.
"The secretary general wishes to add his diplomatic weight to these efforts, which are considerable and extremely important," U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters from Cairo on Ban's arrival.