Tags: arabs | west | gaza | agreement

Arabs and West Reach Agreement on Gaza Resolution

Thursday, 08 Jan 2009 08:33 PM

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UNITED NATIONS – Key Arab nations and Western powers reached agreement Thursday on a U.N. resolution calling for an immediate and durable cease-fire between Hamas militants and Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip and moved for an immediate vote in the Security Council.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal and British Foreign Secretary David Miliband announced the agreement on the final wording of the resolution after a two-hour closed-door meeting.

The foreign ministers from the Arab nations, the United States, Britain and France then walked upstairs to the Security Council chamber for closed consultations, to be followed by a vote.

The foreign ministers from the Arab nations, the United States, Britain and France then walked upstairs to the Security Council chamber for closed consultations, to be followed by a vote.

It will be up to Israel and Hamas to decide to stop their military activities, but the proposed resolution was supported by the United States, Israel's closest ally, and Arab nations that have close ties to Hamas.

"We are all very conscious that peace is made on the ground while resolutions are written in the United Nations," Miliband said. "Our job here is to support the efforts for peace on the ground and to help turn the good words on paper into changes on the ground that are desperately needed."

He said the resolution "will send a very strong signal about the determination of the whole international community to build a dignity for the people of Gaza and security for the people of Israel, and for all the nations here to make their contribution to that noble goal."

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said: "I just want to add, security for the people of Gaza, too."

The agreement came on the third day of an emergency meeting of the Security Council called by the Arabs to try to end the conflict that brought Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and many foreign ministers to U.N. headquarters. With Palestinian civilian casualties mounting, the Arabs are under intense pressure to get a resolution.

The resolution expresses "grave concern" at the escalating violence and the deepening humanitarian crisis in Gaza and emphasizes the need to open all border crossings and achieve a lasting solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Arab nations had been pressing their own resolution, which not only would demand an end to all military activity in Gaza but was revised to include mention Hamas by name and call for an international force to prevent arms smuggling — two key U.S. demands.

But the changes in the Arab text didn't meet all the demands of the United States and its key Western allies, Britain and France, all veto-wielding members of the council.

Those nations countered by shelving a weaker "presidential statement" they had proposed Wednesday and introducing a rival resolution written by the British, diplomats said.

The Western-backed text that won Arab and Western approval Thursday "stresses the urgency of an immediate, durable and fully respected cease-fire" and "condemns all acts of violence and terror directed against civilians." It also cites the need to stop illicit shipments of arms as well as to end Israel's blockade of Gaza.

Israeli envoys went to Cairo, Egypt, on Thursday and held talks with Egyptian officials on an initiative by the presidents of Egypt and France that calls for a temporary truce. Hamas militants have yet to commit to coming to Cairo for talks and said they have major reservations about the plan.

Hamas violently wrested control of the Gaza Strip from the Palestinian Authority in June 2007 and is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. and Israel.

In a possible sign Hamas was unwilling to compromise yet, a senior Hamas official in Syria, Mohammed Nazzal, told Syrian TV on Thursday that the group would never surrender and vowed to fight house to house against Israeli troops in Gaza.

A joint statement issued by Palestinian groups based in Syria's capital Thursday rejected the Egyptian-French initiative, saying it would undermine Gazans' resistance and give Israel "a free hand" to continue aggression.

Hamas is normally a member of the coalition, but it wasn't clear if it signed the statement. Hamas officials in Syria were not available for comment. Osama Hamdan, the Hamas representative in Lebanon who is close to the group's top leader, said he was not aware of the statement.

Israel's government said Wednesday that it viewed the Egyptian-French proposal positively but stopped short of acceptance.

The leaders of France and Germany met Thursday to discuss the crisis and urged quick action to halt the fighting. French President Nicolas Sarkozy said any time lost would play into the hands of those who want war.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel backed the Egyptian-French plan. "We must do everything we can so that this cease-fire occurs as soon as possible," she said.

International efforts to broker a cease-fire have escalated along with the rise in Palestinian casualties in Gaza. The death toll topped 700 Palestinians on Thursday, according to Gaza medical officials. Eleven Israelis have died since the offensive began Dec. 27.

Speaking in Madrid, Spain, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called the Egyptian-French initiative "a positive element" in the peace process and said that "we support it." Abbas' faction, which controls the West Bank, has little sway in Gaza.

The Egyptian-French initiative aims to achieve a "lasting halt" to the fighting and a pullout of Israeli troops along with a cessation of militant rocket fire into Israel and arms smuggling to Hamas, French Foreign Ministry spokesman Eric Chevallier said.

In Washington, the Senate unanimously adopted a resolution stating an "unwavering commitment" to Israel and its right to defend itself, while also calling for "a viable and independent Palestinian state living in peace alongside a secure state of Israel." The House was expected to pass a similar measure Friday.

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