France, UK aim to impose cease-fire to halt Gaza fighting
Last update - 08:06 31/12/2008France, UK aim to impose cease-fire to halt Gaza fighting By Barak Ravid, Haaretz Correspondenthttp://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1051267.html
France and Great Britain are set to present a proposal on Tuesday aimed at forcing a cease-fire on Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
A senior government source in Jerusalem said the initiative would be presented at a emergency session of the European Union's foreign ministers in Paris.
Foreign Ministry sources in Jerusalem said on Monday that the "international hourglass" would allow Israel to continue its operation in the Gaza Strip, at most, until January 5.A source said Britain is pushing to pressure Israel, among other things, by releasing a statement by the 27 foreign ministers of the European Union that will call on Israel to stop the operation.
"The British are promoting a very bad proposal for Israel," a Foreign Ministry source said.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy spoke Monday and Sunday with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to move ahead on a cease-fire.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown made a similar round of calls. Brown and Sarkozy asked for Egypt's help in restoring the cease-fire.
According to the information Jerusalem has, the British and the French seem interested in Egypt or the Arab League leading talks with Hamas. The British and French foreign ministers also brought up the matter on Monday with United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who reportedly expressed her support.
The British-French initiative apparently consists of a number of clauses, starting with a humanitarian cease-fire of 48 hours Later, attempts will be made to restart the cease-fire on a long-term basis. The agreement also includes sending immediate humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip and a review of the possibility of reopening the Rafah crossing by means of updating the 2005 agreement, once again under EU supervision.
"All hostile acts in Gaza must stop at once," French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said in a statement.
According to Kouchner, Hamas is the party that broke the cease-fire first when it began to fire rockets at Israel but that "renewed calm will ensure basic conditions for life among the residents of Gaza."
His British counterpart, David Miliband, called Monday for "an urgent cease-fire and immediate halt to all violence."
In contrast to Kouchner and Miliband, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini on Monday said Hamas were responsible for the escalation in Gaza. Frattini further maintained that Israel acted in self defense, and had a right to do so.
Foreign Ministry Director General Aaron Abramovich held a series of meetings on Monday to assess how much longer the Israel Defense Forces could operate in Gaza before heavy international pressure began. The Foreign Ministry believes that Israel has until January 5, which marks the end of the holiday vacation in Europe and the United States.
The Foreign Ministry says that serious civilian casualties would lessen international legitimization for Israel's operation.
However, senior officials close to Olmert said the government's directives to the IDF had not changed.
"Everything is going exactly according to plan," sources in Olmert's bureau said, adding that they knew it would not be a quick and easy operation. "For now, we have the understanding of the international community."
Czech Republic defends Israeli strikes in Gaza
The Czech Republic, which takes over the European Union's presidency on January 1, defended Israel's strikes against Hamas on Tuesday.
The EU has called for a cease-fire to end the violence that has killed almost 350 Palestinians. But Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg said Israel had the right to defend itself.
"Let us realize one thing: Hamas increased steeply the number of rockets fired at Israel since the ceasefire ended on December 19. That is not acceptable any more," Schwarzenberg told daily Mlada Fronta Dnes in an interview.
France, which will hand over the EU's rotating presidency to Prague, has condemned Israel's strikes and the rocket attacks from Hamas militants and called for both to stop immediately.
Schwarzenberg, a staunch ally of Washington, said Hamas had excluded itself from serious political debate due to its rocket attacks on Israel. He also indirectly blamed the group for the growing death toll, saying it put its bases and gun warehouses in densely populated areas.
"Why am I one of the few that have expressed understanding for Israel? ... I am enjoying the luxury of telling the truth," Schwarzenberg told the daily.
He said under the Czech EU presidency he would try to push through a policy that would lead to peace, saying "I would be very happy if it helped the Palestinians".
He said he would not support either side in the conflict but rather work as a mediator. The paper cited his office as saying he would take part in an extraordinary of EU foreign ministers in Paris on Tuesday evening to discuss the attacks.