France Blasts Israeli Ground Offensive

France condemned late on Saturday, January 3, an Israeli ground military offensive against the heavily-populated besieged Gaza Strip, while London said the operation shows the urgent need for an immediate ceasefire.

"France condemns the Israeli ground offensive against Gaza just as it condemns the continuing firing of rockets," Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said in a statement issued by his office.

Israeli ground forces began moving into Gaza earlier Saturday following a week of massive strikes, which have so far left 460 Palestinians dead including 75 children.

Israeli tanks rolled into Gaza and engaged in night-time battles with resistance fighters.

"This dangerous military escalation complicates the efforts undertaken by the international community, in particular the EU and France, the members of the Quartet, and the states in the region to stop the fighting, bring immediate aid to civilians and find a permanent ceasefire," Kouchne warned.

President Nicolas Sarkozy is due to fly to the Middle East on Monday, hoping to rally key players in the region behind a French plan to pressure Israel and Hamas to renew a failed ceasefire.

Kouchner was also due to travel to the Middle East as part of a three-member ministerial team led by his Czech counterpart Karel Schwarzenberg, whose country just took over the EU rotating presidency.

"Launching land operations by the Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip is not surprising, there were indications that Israel had been considering this step," Schwarzenberg said in a statement.

"But even the indisputable right of the state to defend itself does not allow actions which largely affect civilians," he stressed.

"We call for the facilitation of humanitarian aid to the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip, and… for the establishment of a ceasefire."

Urgently Needed

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Israel’s ground offensive shows the urgent need for an immediate ceasefire.

"Unfolding events show the urgent need for the immediate ceasefire that we have called for. The escalation of the conflict will cause alarm and dismay," he said in a statement.

"Intensive diplomatic efforts to find a solution continue."

On December 30, ministers from all EU 27 members met at Kouchner’s office and issued a joint demand for a ceasefire.

Miliband said he and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown "remain in very close contact with our EU, US and Middle Eastern colleagues".

"We are determined to work as quickly as possible for a durable ceasefire which must include an end to the smuggling of arms into Gaza and the opening of the Gaza crossings," he said.

"The UK believes that the crisis in the Middle East matters to the whole world.

"The only sustainable basis for delivering security and justice for Israelis and Palestinians is the vision of two states living in peace side by side, supported by the rest of the region."


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