Sarkozy says Israeli withdrawal must follow Hamas ceasefire

Hosni Mubarak and Nicolas Sarkozy co-hosted a peace-seeking summit on Gaza in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh with a string of world leaders. Six European heads of state and government are then due to travel to Israel.


Israel should leave the Gaza Strip if Palestinian militants stop firing rockets at the Jewish state, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said at the end of a summit on Gaza in Egypt Sunday.

"We (European leaders) will go to Israel to tell Israel that we are at its side to assure its right to security but Israel must indicate clearly that if the rocket firing stops, the Israeli army will leave Gaza," Sarkozy told journalists alongside five other European leaders.

"There is no other solution for peace," he said, with the six European leaders due to travel on to Israel at the end of the summit in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.


Egypt President Hosni Mubarak, Jordanian King Abdullah II and Arab League chief Amr Mussa called for an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict in 2009, at the end of the summit.

"I hope that 2009 will be the year that will see the end of all these conflicts," Mubarak said, "adding my voice" to Abdullah's and Mussa's at the end of the meeting on the Gaza crisis in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

European and conservative Arab leaders gathered in Sharm el-Sheikh on Sunday to back Egyptian efforts to turn a shaky ceasefire in Gaza into a solid mutual agreement leading to Israeli withdrawal.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called for an immediate withdrawal of Israeli soldiers from Gaza and an end to Palestinian rocket fire.

"This fragile ceasefire has got to be followed immediately, if it is to be sustainable, by humanitarian access... by troop withdrawals, by an end to arms trafficking," he said, also calling for an "end to rocket attacks" by Gaza militants.

"Today a humanitarian tragedy must be met not just by sympathy but by an immediate mobilisation of aid. That is why today we will treble our humanitarian aid," he said.
Ban Ki-moon and Mahmoud Abbas attended

The leaders of Britain, the Czech Republic, Egypt, France, Germany, Jordan, Spain and Turkey, along with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, are meeting in the resort of Sharm el-Sheikh to coordinate policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict after three weeks of fighting in and around Gaza.


Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa also attended.


Israel announced a unilateral ceasefire overnight and the Islamist movement Hamas responded on Sunday by declaring a one-week truce for Israeli troops to leave the coastal strip.


But attacks on Sunday showed that the truce was fragile, with the two sides in disagreement over what should happen next.


"There are some violations here or there. The aim now is to consolidate that ceasefire so that a ceasefire with a longer duration can be achieved," Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki told the Arabic satellite channel Al Arabiya.


The Palestinian ambassador to Egypt, Nabil Amr, said the most pressing issue now was the withdrawal of Israeli troops and Israel should come under pressure to pull them out at once.


Israel's decision to abandon attempts to reach a mediated truce with Hamas was a blow to Egyptian diplomacy but President Hosni Mubarak said on Saturday that Egypt would keep trying.

Arms smuggling

Zaki said the leaders wanted to discuss how to help make sure there is no repeat of the Gaza conflict, in which Israeli forces killed 1,200 Palestinians. Ten Israeli soldiers and three civilians hit by rockets were killed.


"The leaders want to discuss how to help in preventing this tragedy from being repeated, and how to all work on ... rebuilding Gaza," he said.


Several of the participants, including Britain, France and Germany, have offered to send warships to the Middle East to help prevent Hamas in Gaza from receiving arms shipments.


One diplomat said this in itself was a departure in policy for the Europeans, who have previously refrained from using their armed forces to help either side.


British Prime Minister Gordon Brown told reporters on his way to Sharm el-Sheikh the British navy would patrol the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden to prevent arms smuggling.


An end to the smuggling has been one of the Israeli demands in the conflict, which began on Dec. 27 after a six-month truce between the two sides broke down.


But Egypt, much criticised in the Arab world for cooperating in the Israeli blockade of Gaza over the past six months, has refused to allow foreign forces onto its territory as part of the anti-smuggling effort.


Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning