By Dan Williams
JERUSALEM, Nov 20 (Reuters) - The United States signalled on Tuesday that a Gaza truce could take days to achieve after Hamas, the Palestinian enclave’s ruling Islamist militants, backed away from an assurance that it and Israel would stop exchanging fire within hours.
“In the days ahead the United States will work with our partners here in Israel and across the region toward an outcome that bolsters security for the people of Israel, improves conditions for the people of Gaza and moves toward a comprehensive peace for all people of the region,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in Jerusalem.
Clinton spoke after Hamas said an Egyptian-brokered truce deal that it had expected to be in place by Tuesday night was delayed because Israel has not responded to proposals.
Israel launched a Gaza air offensive a week ago to counter the threat of cross-border guerrilla rockets and has massed troops and tanks in a threat to escalate to a ground war.
“If there is a possibility of achieving a long-term solution to this problem with diplomatic means, we prefer that,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said alongside Clinton, who will travel to Cairo on Wednesday.
“But if not, I‘m sure you understand that Israel will have to take whatever action is necessary to defend its people.”