Israel 'considering' Egyptian ceasefire plan

Israel's ambassador to the UN says a limited ceasefire plan for Gaza proposed by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak (pictured) "will be considered." The UN Security Council, itself considering what action to take, awaits Israel's response.


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AFP -   The UN Security Council was set to resume debate Wednesday on an Arab call for an immediate ceasefire in the Gaza Strip as Egypt offered to host peace talks with Israel and the Palestinians.

The 15-member body was due meet again at 11 am (1600 GMT) at ministerial level to weigh a Libyan draft resolution put forward on behalf of several Arab states.

Libyan Foreign Minister Abdel-Rahman Shalgam said Tuesday on the sidelines of a Security Council debate on Gaza that he expected a vote on the text Wednesday.

"It is the responsibility of the Council to end conflicts as soon as possible, and the current conflict in Gaza should be no exception," Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal said Tuesday.

"The Council has not yet taken concrete action. This raises questions about its credibility and the whole system of international peace and security," he added.

But diplomats expressed doubt that the draft, which is opposed by Israel, would garner support from key veto-wielding Western members, particularly the United States.

The council debate on Gaza Tuesday was overshadowed by news of an apparent breakthrough in the mediation undertaken by French President Nicolas Sarkozy in the Middle East.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said after talks with Sarkozy in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh that he invited Israel and the Palestinians for an urgent meeting to discuss security on the Egypt-Gaza border.

Egypt "invites the Israelis and Palestinians for an urgent meeting to reach arrangements and guarantees that would not allow the repeat of the current escalation," Mubarak said.

Such guarantees would include "securing the borders and... opening of the border crossings and lifting the siege," he said.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told reporters here that Mubarak "invited the prime minister of Israel tomorrow in Cairo" to discuss the issue.

And US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told the Council: "We are pleased by and wish to commend the statement of the president of Egypt and to follow up on that initiative."

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband also offered support, urging the Council "to be clear in our principles and practical in our conclusions to reinforce these efforts."

There was no immediate reaction from Olmert's office to Mubarak's invitation.

Meanwhile the Libyan draft "demands an immediate and permanent ceasefire in the Gaza Strip with a cessation of all military activities and violence, including Israeli military operations and the firing of rockets, and the immediate withdrawal of Israeli forces to positions held prior to December 27 2008 and demands full respect of the ceasefire by both parties."

It also calls for the immediate lifting of the 18-month Israeli blockade on Gaza and for the reopening of Gaza's border crossings with Israel and Egypt.

France, which chairs the council this month, had been working with Arab states to try to work out a compromise draft calling for an end to the Israeli military onslaught that has claimed 660 Palestinian lives since December 27.

But Kouchner said Tuesday the focus should now be on the Mubarak-Sarkozy initiative.

"The Security Council must back and encourage these promising efforts," Kouchner said. "All regional states must support this movement and seek to foster moderation and restraint."

And speaking from Sharm el-Sheikh, Sarkozy warned Tuesday that a Security Council resolution on Gaza would "complicate" the task of achieving peace.

But Libya decided to push for a vote on its draft anyway.

"There is no contradiction between the two initiatives," Shalgam told reporters.

The Libyan draft also calls on "Israel, the occupying power, to ensure the unhindered and safe access of humanitarian aid and other essential supplies, including food, medicines and fuel, to the Palestinian civilian population in the Gaza Strip."

It further calls for the "establishment and deployment of an international observer force to monitor implementation of the ceasefire, to ensure protection and safety of the Palestinian civilian population.


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