TEL AVIV: The US President, Barack Obama, dispatched his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, to the Middle East on Tuesday as Israel said it was putting its plans for a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip on hold to give ceasefire talks a chance.
''The goal on that trip is for everybody to use their voices, their influence, for a peaceful outcome,'' the US Deputy National Security Adviser, Ben Rhodes, said at a briefing in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where Mr Obama was attending the East Asia Summit. ''The US bottom line is that Hamas must stop rocket attacks on Israel.''
Mrs Clinton will begin her trip by meeting the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
She will also travel to the West Bank to speak with Palestinian leaders who do not control Gaza. She will then meet Egyptian leaders in Cairo, where the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, was scheduled to hold meetings on Tuesday.
Mr Ban ''wishes to add his diplomatic weight to these efforts, which are considerable and extremely important'', a UN spokesman, Martin Nesirky, said in Egypt.
Israel said it would delay a threatened ground invasion of the Gaza Strip to give the Egyptian-led truce efforts a chance to work.
''I prefer a diplomatic solution,'' Mr Netanyahu said before meeting the German Foreign Minister, Guido Westerwelle, in Jerusalem. ''I hope we can get one, but if not, we have every right to defend ourselves with other means, and we shall use them.''
Mr Rhodes stopped short of saying Mrs Clinton would join the Egyptian efforts to broker a ceasefire and he did not specify if she would meet the Egyptian President, Mohammed Mursi.
''As the President said the other day, we believe that Israel has a right to defend itself, Israel will make decisions about its own security,'' Mr Rhodes said. ''At the same time, if we can achieve the goal of ending rocket fire peacefully, that's clearly preferable.''
As Israel continued its attacks on Hamas and related targets in the Gaza Strip, police arrested a man who stabbed a guard at the US embassy in Tel Aviv, the Haaretz newspaper reported.
At the UN, days after the outbreak of hostilities, the Security Council has remained silent on the escalating violence in Gaza.
The Russian ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, accused the US of delaying a joint statement by the 15-member body.
''To me, it looks like a filibuster attempt,'' Mr Churkin said in New York. ''One member of the Security Council, I'm sure you can guess which, indicated quite transparently that they will not be prepared to go along with any reaction of the Security Council.''
Israeli warplanes struck the Islamic National Bank in Gaza City in a midnight sortie, devastating the Hamas-owned lender the group uses to pay the salaries of its 35,000 staff.
Earlier, Ramez Harb, a senior figure in Islamic Jihad's military wing, the al-Quds Brigades, was killed in an Israeli air strike on a high-rise building where several international media groups have offices, Islamic Jihad said.
Diplomatic pressure rose as Hamas and its rival Palestinian faction, Fatah, agreed to end their infighting in a show of solidarity over the crisis.
Bloomberg; Deutsche Presse-Agentur; Agence France-Presse