US, France, UN, EU and Russia all urge Gaza ceasefire


INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC efforts to address the crisis in Gaza gathered pace yesterday but, with Israel rebuffing calls for an immediate ceasefire, it remained unclear how long it would take to resolve the situation.

In Washington, the state department said the US was seeking a ceasefire that would bring an end to Hamas rocket attacks on Israel, open crossings in and out of the Gaza and address the issue of tunnels used for smuggling. Such a ceasefire would not have a time limit, unlike the previous six-month truce that ended in mid-December, a spokesman said, adding that the US is working with the EU on the issue. He declined, however, to say whether the US and EU are in agreement on the terms of a potential ceasefire.

In Jerusalem, Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni rejected European calls for an immediate ceasefire after holding talks with an EU delegation that included foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Czech foreign minister Karel Schwartzenberg, whose country now holds the rotating EU presidency.

Israel acted to change a situation where "Hamas targets Israel whenever it likes and Israel shows restraint," Ms Livni said. "This is no longer going to be the equation in this region. When Israel is being targeted, Israel is going to retaliate."

But French president Nicolas Sarkozy, on a whistle-stop tour of Middle East capitals, continued to press for a ceasefire after meeting with Palestinian Authority (PA) president Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.

"Everyone must understand that what is at stake here is not just an issue of Israel and Palestinians, it is a global issue. And it is the whole world which will help you find a solution," Mr Sarkozy said.

Tony Blair, envoy for the quartet which comprises the UN, EU, US and Russia, said a ceasefire was a priority. "We are doing everything we possibly can to bring about an end to a situation of immense suffering and deprivation," he added.

Meanwhile, exiled Hamas leader Moussa Abu Marzouk said the organisation was open to international moves to secure a ceasefire but insisted any initiative must ensure Israeli withdrawal and an end to the blockade on Gaza.

Another Hamas official said the group would send a delegation for talks in Egypt. Cairo brokered last year's truce between Israel and Hamas. Mr Solana stressed the importance of Egypt's role after the EU delegation met with the country's president, Hosni Mubarak, in the Red Sea resort of Sharm al-Sheikh yesterday: "We would like very much to obtain a ceasefire, the sooner the better. And in that direction, we are going to keep on working and the co-operation with Egypt is going to be fundamental."

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas will arrive in New York today to appeal for Security Council action, said PA foreign minister Riad Malki.