EU delegates head to Egypt amid new calls for ceasefire

European Union delegates are preparing to head to Cairo for multilateral talks aimed at establishing a ceasefire between Israeli troops and Hamas. EU leaders on Sunday repeated calls for an immediate halt to the hostilities.


AFP - An EU mission to the Middle East called on Sunday for an end to fighting between Israel and Hamas, with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner deploring the "unbearable humanitarian situation in Gaza."

There has to be an end to Palestinian "rocket attacks and on the other side the shelling and the bombing of the Gaza Strip," Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg said after talks with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit.

But short of calling for an end to the Israeli assault and the Palestinian rockets Israel says it's trying to eliminate, the mission headed by current EU president the Czech Republic had no concrete proposals to end the fighting.

More than 510 Palestinians have already been killed in Israel's nine-day offensive on Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip, which on Saturday was intensified with the launch of a massive ground operation.

Kouchner admitted that no one was able to stop the conflict, after the United Nations Security Council on Saturday failed to agree on a statement.

"This war must completely stop, everyone knows it. We know what has to be done but no one can do it," he told a media conference in Cairo.

"I think that there will be no military solution but the protagonists must both be convinced of this.

"Unfortunately our efforts have been unsuccessful and there is ... an unbearable humanitarian situation... In all wars there is a humanitarian crisis and certainly more than imaginable in Gaza," Kouchner said.

"We have to return to the political process, the Palestinian parties must speak to each other and there must be a Palestinian state."

Kouchner said that Hamas made "a deliberate choice not only to resume rocket fire but also to refuse to meet" the rival Fatah faction of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas for Egyptian-mediated reconciliation talks.

A six-month Egyptian-mediated truce between Gaza-based militants including Hamas and Israel expired on December 19, heralding tit-for-tat violence ahead of Israel's air bombardment and ground invasion of the Gaza Strip.

The EU delegation includes EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner and Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt. France handed over the EU presidency to the Czech Republic at the turn of the year.

They will be joined in Cairo by EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana.

The delegation will go on to Jerusalem, Ramallah and Amman from Cairo. French President Nicolas Sarkozy is due to fly separately 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 their failed truce.

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