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By Edward Yeranian
Cairo
02 January 2009

Egypt's Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said Hamas must stop firing rockets into Israel before any truce deal can be reached. There is intense behind-the-scenes diplomacy to reach a cease-fire in the beleaguered Gaza Strip.

Egypt and Turkey, which both have diplomatic relations with Israel, have been intensifying diplomatic activity in an ongoing effort to broker a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas militants.  

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been shuttling between Arab capitals to seek a consensus among bitterly divided Arab leaders before approaching Israel with a diplomatic proposal.

Egyptian Pres. Hosni Mubarak (R) meets with Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan at Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt, 01 Jan 2009
Egyptian Pres. Hosni Mubarak (R) meets with Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan at Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt, 01 Jan 2009
Mr. Erdogan has met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Jordanian King Abdullah II, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the past several days. Prime Minister Erdogan is also due to meet with Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, Saturday.


Al-Arabiya TV reported that Mr. Erdogan also met with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, and Islamic Jihad leader Ramadan Abdallah Challah, while in Damascus, to sound them out over conditions for a Gaza cease-fire.

Egyptian Intelligence Head General Omar Suleiman, who has negotiated previous cease-fires between Israel and Hamas, was briefed on the meetings and has reportedly had contacts with Hamas to sound the group out over terms for a cease-fire.

Israel is demanding that Hamas stop firing rockets into its territory before a cease-fire can be reached, while Hamas is demanding that Israel open all six border crossings with Gaza to food, fuel, and other traffic.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who met with Mr. Erdogan in the Sinai peninsula resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh on Thursday, told reporters that border crossings with Gaza should be reopened, but need to be monitored.

Stranded Palestinians wait for permission to go back to Gaza, at the Rafah border crossing in Egypt  01 Jan 2009
Stranded Palestinians wait for permission to go back to Gaza at the Rafah border crossing in Egypt 01 Jan 2009
He said Israel has the right to monitor what enters the Gaza border crossings from Israeli territory. Israel needs to know if arms or ammunition are entering into Gaza and that goes for all the border crossings. The Israelis, he insisted, should respect Palestinian sensitivities and keep a respectable distance away from the crossings, but cameras and other equipment are in place so that they can keep track of what's going on.


Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit also stressed, Thursday, that Hamas must stop firing rockets into Israeli territory before any truce deal can be reached.

Aboul Gheit's spokesman, Ambassador Hussam Zaki said the key points for a cease-fire are known to everyone, but that it remains up to Arab diplomats to convince the United States and the Europeans to vote on a resolution at the United Nations Security Council.

He said the most important thing, now, is to convince the Security Council to vote on a resolution involving the main issues surrounding a ceasefire. Everything, he argued, hinges on the United States and Europe influencing Israeli decision-making, with respect to their internal calculations, especially their upcoming elections.

In addition to Egyptian and Turkish diplomatic efforts to end the fighting in Gaza, the European Union and France are planning diplomatic missions to the Middle East to try to resolve the deadly conflict.

Nicolas Sarkozy
Nicolas Sarkozy is seeking a sustainable ceasefire (file photo)
The EU's mission will make stops in Israel, the West Bank, Egypt and Jordan next week. It likely will coincide with a trip by French President Nicolas Sarkozy to Israel and the West Bank on Monday.


Protests engulfed many cities across Egypt, after Friday prayers, putting additional pressure on the Egyptian government to help broker a Gaza cease-fire. Many protesters are demanding that Egypt expel Israel's ambassador and close the Israeli Embassy.
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