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Palestinian families who have fled from their homes at a temporary residence in Gaza City, Nov. 20, 2012. As the Palestinian death toll had climbed by late Tuesday morning to 112, according to the Health Ministry in Gaza, the White House announced Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton would travel to the Middle East to try to defuse the conflict.Wissam Nassar/The New York Times

What does Israel want?

Priority Number One: A cessation of rockets fired from Gaza. Those rockets' reach has extended farther into Israeli territory than ever before. In the past week, they've killed at least four Israeli civilians and, on Tuesday, an 18-year-old corporal. This would be Israel's minimum requirement for a preliminary short-term truce as long-term negotiations continue.

Israel's leadership also wants Egypt to shut down the network of tunnels linking the Gaza Strip to the Sinai – tunnels Israel believes are used to smuggle material for Hamas's military arsenal.

Any ceasefire agreement on Israel's part would likely include the expectation that Hamas will rein in such groups as Islamic Jihad, Gaza's second-largest militant group. That could be awkward: Israel's assassination of senior Islamic Jihad leader Rames Harb heightened tensions between the two Gazan groups.

What does Hamas want?

Priority Number One: A cessation of airstrikes and shelling from Israel – this includes targeted assassinations such as the one that killed Hamas military chief Ahmed Jaabari last week. Since that escalation of violence, attacks from the air and naval vessels have killed more than 130 people and injured more than 1,000, including hundreds of children. Israel's targets have extended from Hamas military sites to political infrastructure, and while the Israel Defence Forces says they are choosing their targets with surgical precision, Gazan medical officials say more than half the casualties have been civilians.

Another priority would be re-opening the Rafah border crossing into Egypt, which is the only way the majority of Gaza's citizens can leave the territory.

Hamas has also demanded that Israel lift a blockade that has boxed in Gaza for years. That condition, or at least some loosening of socio-economic restrictions on the territory, appeared to be bolstered by Hillary Clinton Tuesday: The Secretary of State said she expects an agreement that "improves conditions" for Gazans.

Would a truce hold?

Maybe. But it would be tricky.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to any lasting truce is a deep mutual distrust. Neither side expects the other to uphold its part of the bargain, so each is preparing to resume attacks.

Israel has made clear it has limited hope for a successful ceasefire: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday evening that while he would "prefer" a diplomatic solution, he's prepared to "take any actions necessary" to defend Israeli citizens. Responding to demands from Israel that it stop smuggling weaponry through tunnels, Hamas spokesman Taher Nunu wondered sarcastically, "Will Israel stop producing its weapons? … We have the right to defend ourselves."

A ceasefire's success also depends on Hamas's ability to control its population, and other militant groups within it. Because of this, some have argued it's against Israel's interests to target Hamas's political infrastructure: Crippling Hamas would leave a leaderless Gaza open to more extreme factions.

Who's at the table?

A swarm of international diplomats – including representatives from Turkey, Qatar and the Arab League – have flocked to Gaza City and Jerusalem attempting to de-escalate what has now been a week of violence. But the two most important intermediaries are Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

A meeting between the two of them, scheduled for Wednesday, could be the most crucial step yet toward a ceasefire.

Mr. Morsi, in particular, brings new clout to these talks: His government has made a point of both expressing solidarity with the Palestinians and acting as a peace broker. This is a tricky balance to maintain if the violence escalates and pressure builds on Mr. Morsi to intervene on Hamas's behalf, violating a 33-year-old treaty with Israel in the process.

But Mr. Morsi's rapport with Hamas can boost peace talks now, if he can win Israel's trust. Two of the most important demands from either side – closing Hamas's tunnel network and re-opening the Rafah crossing – are largely in his hands.

With a report from Reuters

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