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 
days [Reuters]

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 
southern towns.

Arab diplomacy

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.
 Source:     Agencies

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