Friday, January 16, 2009
13:30 Mecca time, 10:30 GMT
News Middle East
Gaza diplomatic efforts intensify
Ban, right, said he expected Israel to agree to a truce but not for another few
Diplomatic efforts on the Gaza crisis appear to be intensifying, with Tzipi
Livni, the Israeli foreign minister, due in Washington on Friday to press the
US for guarantees that would make a ceasefire acceptable to Israel.
Al Jazeera's Zeina Awad, reporting from the Israel-Gaza border early on Friday,
said Livni is expected to seek a big US role, alongside other international
players, in stopping arms from being smuggled to Hamas in Gaza, as a condition
for signing any ceasefire agreement.
The office of Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, said Condoleezza Rice,
the US secretary of state, had told him "the United States would be prepared to
assist in solving the issue of smuggling".
Al Jazeera's James Bays, quoting Israeli media, said that while Livni was
giving nothing away publicly, the foreign minister seeking to become prime
minister in forthcoming elections, was saying in private that it was time for a
A rival contender, Ehud Barak, the defence minister, is also reportedly arguing
for a ceasefire, our correspondent said.
Hamas ceasefire terms
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Israeli leaders are reportedly considering Hamas's terms for a ceasefire after
Israeli envoy Amos Gilad returned from a day-long trip to Cairo where he
discussed the issue with Egyptian mediators.
And Hamas's terms appear to have softened in recent days.
The Palestinian faction governing the Gaza Strip, which had been demanding an
immediate Israeli ceasefire and lifting of Israel's blockade of Gaza, now says
it will agree to a year-long truce if Israel pulls out of the territory within
five to seven days.
Hamas also demands the opening of all Gaza crossings, backed by international
guarantees that they will stay open.
But Hamas is not the sole faction operating in Gaza and it was not clear
whether other factions were on board with the ceasefire terms.
Still, Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, said on Thursday that he was
"reasonably optimistic" that the Israelis would accept the ceasefire deal with
However, speaking after meeting Israeli leaders in Tel Aviv, he admitted that
"it may take a few more days to agree to a few more technical issues" and urged
both sides of the conflict to "stop fighting now".
Israel insists Hamas must no longer be able to smuggle in weapons through
tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border, and must end its rocket attacks on its
Also on Thursday, Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) leaders meeting in Riyadh,
the Saudi capital, to discuss the crisis, agreed to continue deliberations at a
summit in Kuwait on Monday.
Israel pressed for truce
The Saudi gathering came a day after Qatar unveiled its own plan for an Arab
League meeting on the war to be held in Doha, the country's capital, on Friday.
"We all know it is shameful to discuss the national and human cost of Gaza that
has now been stained with children's blood at the margin of a previously
planned summit," Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the emir of Qatar, said.
"We have renewed our invitation for an emergency Arab summit in Doha but,
whenever quorum has been reached, it falls short again."
When asked about the Doha summit, Saudi officials said there was no quorum to
convene it and Egyptian officials were also planning to stay away.
But some leaders have arrived in Doha, including presidents Bashar al-Assad of
Syria and Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria.
Obama's team backs Israel
Meanwhile, hopes in the Arab world that the incoming US administration under
Barack Obama will bring about substantial change to US policy on the Middle
East took a hit on Thursday.
Livni is expected to press the US to help stop the flow of arms to Hamas [EPA]
Several of the president-elect's nominees for his national security team were
on Capitol Hill for their confirmation hearings and Susan Rice, nominated to be
the US ambassador to the UN, made it clear that she was committed to defending
While saying "we are also gravely concerned now about the suffering of
innocents in Gaza", Rice also said that many had tried "to use the UN wilfully
and unfairly to condemn our ally, Israel".
Rice's defence of Israel came on the day the Israeli army shelled the main UN
compound in Gaza and the president of the UN General Assembly accused Israel of
violating international law with its war on Gaza.
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