Intensive Talks for UN Deal on Gaza Truce Call

Intensive talks were underway here Thursday to reconcile two rival Security Council resolutions proposed by Western and Arab foreign ministers seeking an immediate Gaza ceasefire.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, in agreement with his U.S. counterpart Condoleezza Rice and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, presented a new draft to Arab colleagues Thursday.

"Our hope is that it is a text that can get consensus," a Western diplomat said, asking to remain anonymous.

But Arab ministers earlier submitted their own revised draft resolution demanding an immediate and permanent ceasefire in the Gaza Strip and indicated they were determined to push for a Security Council vote Thursday.

After several rounds of bargaining over the two texts by the two sides, Rice told reporters: "We are making some progress. We’re still working."

But the U.S. delegation signaled earlier this week that it would oppose adoption by the council of the Arab draft, saying it would prefer approval by consensus of a non-binding statement merely stressing the need for "an immediate and durable ceasefire."

"It is the responsibility of the (security) council and the permanent members of the council" to deal with threats to international peace, Arab league chief Amr Moussa told reporters Thursday.

The revised Arab draft put forward by Libya — the lone Arab member of the 15-member council — "demands an immediate and permanent ceasefire in Gaza" and calls for "the immediate lifting of the Israeli blockade" of the territory.

A diplomat said earlier Thursday that Arab ministers were confident of securing the nine votes necessary to adopt their resolution provided there is no veto from the five permanent members — Britain, China, France, Russia and the U.S.

Rice, Miliband and Kouchner had met throughout Wednesday with their Arab colleagues but the two sides failed to reconcile their differences.
 
Arabs under Pressure

Arab ministers are under heavy public pressure to secure an immediate end to Israel’s 13-day military onslaught in Gaza that has killed more than 760 Palestinians.

The U.S. delegation earlier this week signaled that it would oppose adoption by the Council of the Arab draft resolution and said it would prefer approval by consensus of a non-binding statement merely stressing the need for "an immediate and durable ceasefire."

"The Security Council has to be put before its responsibilities, a resolution or no resolution, it is the responsibility of the council and the permanent members of the council," Moussa said.

Libya — the lone Arab member of the 15-member council — put forward a revised draft resolution "that demands an immediate and permanent ceasefire in Gaza" and calls for "the immediate lifting of the Israeli blockade" of the territory.

A diplomat said earlier Thursday that Arab ministers were confident of securing the nine votes necessary to adopt their resolution provided there is no veto from the five permanent members — Britain, China, France, Russia and the U.S.

Israel has opposed the idea of the Security Council passing anything on the Gaza crisis, whether it is a resolution or a non-binding statement.

The U.S. delegation had also been opposed to a resolution but diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they had dropped their objections and were prepared to back a text that would require what U.S. officials repeatedly describe as a "durable" ceasefire.

As diplomats discussed the possibility of a resolution, violence continued on the ground. Israel pressed its offensive against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip, a U.N. aid agency said it was suspending operations there and a rocket salvo from Lebanon slightly wounded two people in northern Israel. 
 
The Egyptian Plan

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Tuesday presented a three-point proposal for ending the Gaza conflict, but the idea was turned down by Damascus-based Palestinian groups.

The plan included an "immediate ceasefire for a specific period" to allow humanitarian aid to get to Gaza’s traumatized population and an invitation to Israel and the Palestinians to come to Egypt for talks.

It also urged a reopening of Gaza’s border crossings, lifting the blockade, and renewed a call for Palestinian reconciliation talks under Egyptian mediation.

Palestinian groups based in Syria, including Hamas, believe the Egyptian plan aimed at securing a permanent ceasefire in the Gaza Strip "has no valid basis," a Palestinian official said on Thursday.

"Palestinian organizations, notably Hamas, see no valid basis in the Egyptian plan for a solution to the crisis" in Gaza, Khaled Abdel-Majid, spokesman for Palestinian groups based in Damascus, told AFP.

He said the common position came after a meeting of eight Palestinian movements based in the Syrian capital, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad groups.

"The Franco-Egyptian initiative does not contribute towards finding a solution since it is a threat to the resistance and the Palestinian cause, allowing the enemy to continue its aggression," the groups said in a statement.

The Damascus-based movements "reject the presence of international forces or observers in Gaza, since this is aimed at defending the security of the occupation and reinforcing the blockade against the resistance."

The statement called for "a halt to the aggression, a withdrawal (of Israeli forces) without delay, lifting the blockade and opening the crossing points, especially at Rafah" on the border with Egypt.
 
US Senate Supports Incursion

The U.S. Senate voiced strong support on Thursday for Israel’s battle against Hamas in Gaza, while urging a ceasefire that would prevent Hamas from launching any more rockets into Israel.

The chamber agreed on a voice vote to the non-binding resolution co-sponsored by Democratic and Republican party leaders in the chamber.

"When we pass this resolution, the United States Senate will strengthen our historic bond with the state of Israel, by reaffirming Israel’s inalienable right to defend against attacks from Gaza, as well as our support for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said before the vote.

Noting that Israel was bent on halting Hamas rocket fire into its southern towns, Reid said: "I ask any of my colleagues to imagine that happening here in the United States.

The House was expected to pass a similar resolution.

The reported Palestinian death toll in the 13-day-old conflict topped 760. At least 11 Israelis have been killed, eight of them soldiers, including four hit by "friendly fire."

(Agencies via Alarabiya.net)

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