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Sarkozy back in Egypt, USA wants 'immediate ceasefire'

Latest update : 2009-01-06

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has made an unscheduled return to Egypt to meet President Hosni Mubarak, and step up efforts end to the violence in Gaza. The US has signalled that it wants to see "an immediate ceasefire".

AFP - France's Prime Minister Francois Fillon said on Tuesday that there is still a slim chance of a ceasefire in Gaza, as President Nicolas Sarkozy prolonged a regional peace-seeking tour.

Fillon was addressing parliament to explain why Sarkozy had decided to return to Egypt for further meetings to build support for France's bid to convince Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas to renew a truce.

Sarkozy will return to see Egyptian counterpart Hosni Mubarak "because there is a path, even if it is very narrow, towards getting, through pressure from all the actors, a ceasefire on the ground," Fillon explained.

In Beirut after an earlier meeting in Damascus with Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, Sarkozy said he would return later Tuesday to Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt for the second time in two days.

His whistle-stop tour, aimed at building support for at least a temporary halt in fighting between Hamas and Israeli forces, has also taken in Israel, the West Bank and Lebanon, where he met President Michel Sleiman.

"France's goal is an immediate halt to the fighting, for humanitarian reasons," Fillon told lawmakers, calling for the warring parties to allow medical agencies to treat and evacuate the wounded.

A Hamas delegation was also in Cairo on Tuesday to discuss ceasefire ideas with Egyptian officials, but was not to meet Sarkozy.

Israel launched Operation Cast Lead on December 27 with a massive air bombardment of Gaza designed, it said, to halt a barrage of Hamas rockets against Israeli towns. It sent in thousands of ground troops a week later.

Since then, at least 592 Palestinians have been killed, including more than 160 children, and more than 2,700 wounded, according to Gaza medics, and the United Nations has warned of an imminent humanitarian crisis.
   

Date created : 2009-01-06