Israel's Livni deems French proposal for Gaza truce pointless

Tzipi Livni, Israel's foreign minister, met with French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris, where she rejected French suggestions for a truce and gave a speech saying that Hamas habitually abused peace overtures.


REUTERS - Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on Thursday again rejected calls for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza after talks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy who embarks on a Middle East peace mission next week.

Livni emerged from a one-hour meeting at the Elysee presidential palace and said Israel would decide in due course when to halt its military offensive against Palestinian Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip.

"The question of whether it's enough or not will be the result of our assessment on a daily basis," said Livni.

She rejected France's call for a 48-hour truce to provide humanitarian relief after six days of Israeli air strikes.

"We understand that while operating in the Gaza Strip against Hamas, we need to ease the life of the civilian population," she said.

"In this operation, Israel distinguishes (between) the war against terror, against Hamas members, from the civilian population. In doing so, we keep the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip completely as it should be."

But she thanked Sarkozy for "his understanding" of the complexity of the situation in the region.

"He understands the nature of the threat that Israel is facing," she told reporters.

"Israel is in the front line of the free world and is being attacked because we represent the values of the free world, which includes France," she added.

Sarkozy is expected to push for a ceasefire during his trip to the Middle East on Monday and Tuesday that will include stops in Israel, the West Bank, Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

It will be the first visit by the leader of a major power to the region since Israel began its military offensive in the Gaza Strip on Saturday to retaliate against Hamas rocket attacks.

With the death toll from the Gaza violence having passed 400, Israel is facing international calls to take steps to end the bloodshed that has left scores of civilians dead.

"Here there is an impression that Israel does not want a ceasefire. That is not the issue," Livni said in an interview to French television i-tele ahead of the Elysee meeting.

"Our ability to enter into a ceasefire is linked to a halt by Hamas of rocket attacks on our Israeli citizens," she said.

After touching down in Paris, Livni headed directly into talks with Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner who this week hosted a meeting of European Union foreign ministers who called for a ceasefire.

The Middle East Quartet made up of the EU, Russia, the United Nations and the United States also appealed for peace and Pope Benedict XVI added his voice on Thursday, saying he hoped "violence, hatred and mistrust" would not prevail in the world in 2009, notably in the Middle East.

Defending Israel's stance, Livni said the military offensive was not aimed at overthrowing Hamas, which has controlled Gaza since June 2007, but that "as long as Hamas rules Gaza, prospects for peace are slim."

France wrapped up its six-month stint as president of the European Union with the proposal for a 48-hour truce in Gaza to allow for humanitarian relief, but the Israeli cabinet rejected the offer on Wednesday.

Livni said the truce could be used by Hamas to regroup.

The French leader has made clear he intends to continue playing an active role in European diplomacy even as the Czech Republic takes the helm of the EU.

Sarkozy will travel to Cairo on Monday for a working lunch with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, whose government is seeking to renew an Israel-Hamas ceasefire brokered in 2008 and which expired in late December.

He then meets with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in Ramallah. A ministerial delegation from the European Union will also be present at the meeting in a show of support for the Palestinian leader.

Sarkozy will then have a working dinner with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Jerusalem on Monday evening.


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