UPDATED ON:
Sunday, January 18, 2009
16:12 Mecca time, 13:12 GMT      
News Middle East
Egypt hosts Gaza ceasefire summit

Abbas called for a complete withdrawal of Israeli troops from within the Gaza 
Strip [AFP]

Hosni Mubarak, Egypt's president, is hosting European and Middle East leaders 
for a hastily called summit to attempt to bolster Israel's declared cessation 
of hostilities in Gaza.

The meeting at Egypt's Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on Sunday is being 
attended by the presidents of France, Turkey and Jordan, secretaries-general of 
the United Nations and the Arab League, prime ministers of the UK, Italy, 
Spain, Czech Repulic and Germany's chancellor.

Despite previous confusion, senior aides accompanying Mahmoud Abbas, the West 
Bank-based Palestinian president, confirmed he would be attending the 
conference as well.

"Our top priority now is to make sure this ceasefire holds so we can move on to 
national reconciliation and reconstruction," Abbas's spokesman told Al Jazeera.

It was not immediately clear whether Israel would send a representative, and 
Hamas, which forms the de facto government in Gaza, has not been invited.

Unilateral cessation

Ehud Olmert, Israel's prime minister, had declared a unilateral end to fighting 
in Gaza late on Saturday after three weeks of Israeli assault on the 
Palestinian territory left more than 1,200 people dead and caused billions of 
dollars worth of infrastructure damage.

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The stated aim of the offensive was to halt Palestinian rocket attacks into 
southern Israel and disable the Hamas movement. Olmert announced the cessation 
claiming Israel had achieved its military objectives.

Israel decided on its unilateral ceasefire in preference to entering into an 
Egyptian-brokered truce with Hamas, analysts say.

This allows Israel to avoid agreeing concessions with the Palestinian groups, 
such as easing the blockade that has prevented medical aid and basic supplies 
from reaching the civilian population in Gaza.

Egypt has been pushing Israel and the rival Palestinian factions to negotiate a 
ceasefire agreement.

Mubarak met Abbas in Cairo on Sunday ahead of the summit to discuss how to open 
Gaza's border crossings and mobilise humanitarian aid in the territory.

Israeli withdrawal

Abbas called for a complete withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza after 
meeting Mubarak earlier.

Referring to Israel's stated intention to end its offensive in Gaza, Abbas said 
"the ceasefire is important and necessary but insufficient".

"There must be a complete Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and a reopening of 
crossing points to allow the arrival of aid to the Palestinian people of Gaza," 
he said, as quoted by MENA, the official Egyptian news agency.

The six European leaders at the summit planned to visit Israel later on Sunday.

Mubarak is expected to travel to Kuwait on Monday for an Arab economic summit, 
which has shifted its focus to the crisis in Gaza.

Arab leaders have faced sharp criticism for an apparent lack of action over 
Israel's offensive in Gaza, and even organising a meeting has highlighted deep 
divisions.

An emergency summit held in Doha earlier in the week saw Qatar and Mauritania 
severing ties with Israel, while Egypt and Saudi Arabia refused to attend.
 Source:     Al Jazeera and agencies
    


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