Mitchell calls to bolster Gaza truce
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New US envoy to the Mideast, George Mitchell, on his maiden trip to Israel for peace talks, said it was "critical" to consolidate the tenuous Gaza ceasefire, open borders and end smuggling into Gaza.
AFP - US Middle East envoy George Mitchell said on Wednesday it was critical to consolidate a ceasefire in Gaza by ending hostilities, opening borders and ending smuggling into the enclave.
"The prime minister and I discussed the critical importance to consolidate the ceasefire including a cessation of hostilities, an end to smuggling and reopening of the crossings based on 2005 agreements," Mitchell told reporters after meeting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
On his maiden trip to the region since being appointed by new US President Barack Obama, Mitchell said: "The US will sustain an active commitment to reaching the goal of the two states living side by side in peace and security."
And he reiterated that Washington "is committed to Israel's security and to its right to defend itself."
His trip comes more than a week after the end of Israel's devastating war on the Hamas-run Gaza Strip that left more than 1,300 Palestinians dead, according to local medics.
A senior Israeli official said Olmert told Mitchell that the government would observe a ceasefire around the Hamas stronghold only if there was a "total calm and an end to rocket fire and terror activities and the arms smuggling."
"If Hamas fires on us we will respond."
He said Israel would open Gaza's border crossings -- which it has kept sealed to all but essential humanitarian goods since Hamas seized power in June 2007 -- only if the Islamists released a soldier seized in a deadly militant raid in June 2006.
"The crossings will be opened for humanitarian purposes only out of concern for the need of the civilian population in Gaza," he said. "A permanent opening of the crossings will be linked to solving the issue of Gilad Shalit."
He also said that forces loyal to Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, booted out of Gaza by Hamas in 2007, need to return to the coastal strip.
"It is important that following the successful operation, Hamas's power in Gaza will decrease and that the Palestinian Authority will be able to get a foothold in the Gaza Strip," he said.
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