United States Proposes Three Elements in a Gaza Cease-Fire Plan

Close-up on Mahmoud Abbas talking with aide (AP Images)Rice is working closely with international community

photo: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, right, consults with aide Saeb Erekat during a recent press conference.

Washington (RushPRnews) 01/06/09 — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is working on three elements of a plan that could lead to a “sustainable, durable cease-fire” between the Israelis and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, a State Department spokesman says.

The three elements include an end to rocket attacks from Gaza into Israeli communities; the opening of Israeli border crossings by Israel into and out of Gaza; and the issue of tunnels used to smuggle arms and munitions into Gaza, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said at a regular January 5 briefing.

“We are looking for and working towards a sustainable, durable, non-time-limited cease-fire in which the Palestinian people can live better lives and the Israeli people can also live better lives, and not fear rocket attacks … being launched from the Gaza [Strip],” McCormack said.

McCormack said Rice was trying to get the international community to coalesce around those three elements, acknowledging that “there’s a lot of detailed work that needs to go into” such an agreement. On New Year’s Eve, the U.N. Security Council met but was unable to reach agreement on an Arab-backed cease-fire plan.

“There is still ongoing violence, and we would like, along with others in the international community, to see that violence end as soon as possible. And we are working toward that end,” McCormack said.

On security at border crossings, McCormack said previously there were European border monitors at the Rafah crossing, which provides an example of an arrangement that could serve as a model for reopening border crossings that have been closed by Israel. The border-crossing arrangement had been part of the 2005 Movement and Access Agreement.

Rice has already conducted 17 telephone conversations with other foreign officials, he said, during her efforts to resolve the current crisis.

HOSTILITIES BEGAN WITH ROCKETS

Gaza has been under the control of Hamas since June 2007, when its militant forces ousted the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority, which has maintained control over the West Bank territories and is the recognized government of the Palestinian territories.

The Gaza Strip is a rectangular section of land along the Mediterranean coastline between southern Israel and Egypt. The nearly 1.4 million residents living there are Palestinians, and many have been living in refugee camps for decades, according to The New York Times.

Israel launched its offensive after Hamas called off its six-month-old truce with Israel and increased the number of rockets and mortars being fired into southern Israel.

On December 14, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal announced that the group, a U.S.-designated terrorist group, would not renew a six-month-old Egyptian-brokered truce with Israel, and by December 19 Hamas had begun firing three different types of rockets and mortars into southern Israeli communities. Israel began massive air strikes in the Gaza Strip on December 27, and then began a ground offensive into Gaza on January 3.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was scheduled to meet in New York with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon January 6 to discuss possible ways to bring about a cease-fire arrangement. Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki told the Associated Press that Abbas would push for rapid approval of an Arab-backed resolution. Malki said Abbas is also seeking a permanent cease-fire that includes border monitors and an international force to protect civilians.

McCormack said the United States is coordinating closely with several European Union diplomatic efforts now under way in the Middle East. The EU has dispatched diplomats to the region in hopes of brokering an agreement to end the violence. Both French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Middle East envoy Tony Blair are visiting the region and conducting meetings. And Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg was leading an EU peace mission. His country assumed the rotating EU presidency January 1.

HUMANITARIAN CRISIS WORSENS

President Bush said January 5 that Hamas unleashed a barrage of rockets and mortars that deliberately targeted Israelis. “I understand Israel’s desire to protect itself,” he said.

But Bush said he is still hopeful that a cease-fire arrangement can be reached. He also expressed significant concern about the humanitarian situation now facing the Palestinian people living in the Gaza Strip.

“Since Hamas’ violent takeover in the summer of 2007, living conditions have worsened for Palestinians in Gaza. By spending its resources on rocket launchers instead of roads and schools, Hamas has demonstrated that it has no intention of serving the Palestinian people,” Bush said in his weekly radio address released January 2 in Washington.

source: America.gov