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Video by Siobhán SILKE

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2008-12-26

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is in Egypt to discuss escalating violence on the Israeli-Egyptian border with President Hosni Mubarak. Her visit comes on the heels of the worst violence the region has seen in six months.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni headed to Egypt on Thursday for talks with President Hosni Mubarak on the situation around Gaza, where escalating violence has dimmed prospects of a new truce.


France 24 Egypt correspondent Ygal Saadoun said of the situation, “There are those in Egypt who think Moubrak should let things be. Certainly he doesn’t want to be seen as being in close cooperation with Israel, especially since Tzipi Livni said last week that she would topple Hamas if she were elected Prime Minister.”


Indeed Egypt’s brokering of the talks has put it in a delicate position. Saadoun said, “Egypt is under pressure at home to do everything it can to bring humanitarian aid to the Palestinians [in the Gaza Strip], but on this point Israel remains clear; the embargo will remain until a truce is negotiated.”


Additionally, says Saadoun, Egypt-Hamas relations are at a low. “Egypt was instrumental in brokering the truce between Israel and Hamas six months ago. This was a success. Afterward, Egypt tried to broker a reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah; it was a failure.”
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni vowed on Thursday to strike back at the Hamas rulers of Gaza after a sharp escalation of violence in the Palestinian territory dashed hopes of a new truce.
"Enough is enough. The situation is going to change," Livni said in Cairo after meeting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to discuss the deteriorating situation in the Gaza Strip since a truce expired six days ago.
"Unfortunately there is one address to the situation of the people in the Gaza Strip, this is Hamas, Hamas controls them, Hamas decided to target Israel, this is something that has to be stopped and this is what we're going to do," she said in English.
"Yesterday's escalation was unbearable," Livni said after Gaza militants hit Israel with their biggest rocket barrage in six months to avenge the killing of three fighters from the Islamist movement.
"Hamas needs to understand that our aspiration for peace does not mean that Israel will take this situation any longer," Livni said at a press conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit.
"Hamas's control of the Gaza Strip is not only Israel's problem... but what we are doing is an expression of the needs of the region."
"The situation in the Gaza Strip has become an obstacle on the way of the Palestinians toward a state," added Livni, who has vowed to topple Hamas if her Kadima party wins a general election in February.
Livni has been heading the Israeli negotiating team in peace talks with the Palestinians that resumed in November last year but have failed to make any visible headway since.
Abul Gheit, whose government mediated the six-month truce that expired on Friday, called for restraint in the impoverished territory that has been ruled by Hamas since it routed the rival Fatah movement in June 2007.
"Egypt has made clear that there should be restraint and no escalation and an alleviation of the humanitarian situation," he said, saying Israel should refrain from "collective punishment."
He said Egypt would continue its mediation efforts, but expressed pessimism that a new truce could be achieved.
"Egypt won't stop its efforts as long as the parties agree. But I do not imagine that we can convince both parties to return to the truce as long as there is such a strong confrontation between them."
Israel's Maariv newspaper said the security cabinet had given the army the go-ahead to conduct expanded operations in Gaza after a meeting on Wednesday and Defence Minister Ehud Barak warned that Israel would respond to the fire.
"Hamas... will pay a big price," he said. "We will not allow this situation to last."
Hamas has vowed to step up attacks if Israel strikes Gaza, a tiny enclave sandwiched between Egypt and Israel that is home to 1.5 million largely aid-dependent Palestinians.
Since Friday's expiry of the truce, Israel has threatened to launch a major offensive on Gaza, with top leaders threatening to topple Hamas, considered a terrorist group by Israel and the West.
In turn, Hamas -- which is sworn to the destruction of the Jewish state -- has warned it would retaliate by resuming suicide bombings inside Israel. The last such attack was in January 2005.
A UN statement said UN chief Ban Ki-moon was "gravely concerned" about the situation, that he condemned the rocket attacks and also called for an urgent easing of humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip.
Pope Benedict XVI also urged an end to "hatred and violence" in the Middle East during his midnight mass Christmas homily ahead of a planned trip to the region.
Israel kept Gaza sealed off on Thursday but analysts have said its leaders would be wary of launching a major military operation with a general election just weeks away.
Opinion polls show the right-wing Likud party of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is likely to defeat Livni's Kadima, a result that could put peace talks with the Palestinians on hold.
Aid groups have warned of a deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza, which has been virtually cut off from the outside world since Hamas violently ousted its rivals from Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas's Fatah faction in June 2007.

Date created : 2008-12-25