08 January 2009
Representatives of Israel, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority are due to hold talks with Egyptian officials in Cairo on Thursday to discuss a plan designed to secure a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip. Egyptian diplomats said that Cairo planned to broker "technical" talks separately with representatives of the various parties. Israeli officials were noncommittal on the plan. "Israel welcomes the initiative of the French president and the Egyptian president to bring about a sustainable quiet in the south," government spokesman Mark Regev said in Jerusalem.
A top French diplomat in Paris said the first aim of the initiative was to speed up Israeli-Egyptian negotiations on increasing security along Gaza's borders. Then talks would be held on reopening border crossings, he said. The latter negotiations could quickly lead to an Israeli military pullout from Gaza, the unnamed official told the ‘Associated Press’ news agency.
US secretary of state Condoleeza Rice applauded the proposal and said she had talked with both the Israelis and Arab envoys about "the importance of moving that initiative forward."
The Chinese government urged an immediate ceasefire in the Gaza Strip on Thursday, calling on Israel to halt military operations and for Hamas to stop missile launches. China's special envoy on Middle Eastern affairs, Sun Bigan, said there was no sign of an end to the fighting and "continued warfare is dragging Gaza into a humanitarian crisis," the official ‘Xinhua’ news agency reported. Sun also gave China's backing to the Egyptian proposal. Egypt's plan "should be treated seriously by the international community," a government spokesman told a news conference in Beijing.
Meanwhile, Israeli president Shimon Peres said Gaza must not become a "satellite of Iran." In an interview with the Italian daily 'Repubblica', he said: "Our goals are clear: we do not want to make Gaza a satellite of Iran, and we don't want a ceasefire but the end of the terror. Hamas must stop firing." Peres added: "We do not want to prolong the war, and we have no territorial ambitions for Gaza. With this operation, there is a chance for peace." Peres said the ceasefire plan proposed by Egypt was "a general idea" with the details to be hammered out, adding that this could take several days. "It's an unprecedented situation," Peres said. "We are facing a terrorist group that controls territory that it appropriated illegally. They care little about saving the lives of their children and women, and they fire rockets on our schools.”
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