Egypt summit ups pressure on Israel to quit Gaza
AFP - Monday, January 19
SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt (AFP) - - European and Arab leaders meeting in Egypt on Sunday ratcheted up calls for an Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and announced plans for an international aid conference.
The leaders, as well as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and including Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, also issued a rallying call to the world to support the fragile truce between Israel and Hamas militants.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who co-chaired the summit with Egyptian counterpart Hosni Mubarak, said Israel must pull out if Palestinian militants stop firing rockets at the Jewish state.
Alongside five other European leaders in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, Sarkozy said: "Israel must indicate clearly that if the rocket firing stops, the Israeli army will leave Gaza."
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown went further, saying Israeli soldiers should withdraw immediately, but also called on Hamas to end the rocket attacks which sparked the three-week war.
The Sharm el-Sheikh summit, which included neither Hamas nor Israeli representatives, convened as Palestinian armed groups offered a one-week truce in response to the unilateral ceasefire declared by Israel overnight.
An Israeli army spokesman said troops had begun a gradual withdrawal from Gaza on Sunday and witnesses reported some soldiers and tanks leaving key positions in and around Gaza City.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert later told the European leaders at a joint press conference in Jerusalem that he wanted to pull his troops out "as quickly as possible."
Brown said this should be just the start of a concerted international effort to stabilise the region.
"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 told journalists in Sharm el-Sheikh.
"Today a humanitarian tragedy must be met not just by sympathy but by an immediate mobilisation of aid."
Amid calls for a massive humanitarian effort to be launched to take advantage of the ceasefire, Mubarak announced that Egypt planned to host an international aid conference, although he did not say when.
More than 1,300 Palestinians, at least half of them civilians, were killed in the 22 days of fighting between Israeli forces and the Hamas militants that left much of the small territory of 1.5 million people in ruins.
European leaders used the Sharm el-Sheikh summit to pledge desperately-needed help to start the rebuilding process and vowed to help stop the smuggling of arms to Hamas through Egypt's porous border with Gaza.
Britain, Germany and the United States, among others, have vowed to help seal off the tunnels on the Egypt-Gaza border that are a lifeline of the Hamas militants, but also for Gaza's residents living under an Israeli blockade.
Egypt, which brokered a six-month truce between Israel and Hamas that expired on December 19 triggering the latest fighting, has been a key mediator between Hamas and Israel, which boycotts the Islamist group as a terrorist organisation.
Abbas, who has been pressing Hamas to accept Egyptian-led efforts to secure an elusive bilateral ceasefire with Israel, urged the international community to launch a major humanitarian effort.
"We wished from the first day that this aggression did not happen, but when it started our first demand was the end of the aggression.
"And now it has stopped we wish the end to the aggression remains, and that humanitarian aid begins (reaching) our people immediately."
But major problems lie ahead with no agreement on how the peace will be monitored.
Abbas's ambassador in Egypt, Nabil Amro, said his Palestinian Authority, which controls the West Bank, is insisting on the deployment of international troops to Gaza to "protect the Palestinian people."
But Hamas has said it will not agree to international forces in Gaza and will treat them as "occupying" soldiers.
Mubarak said his country was working hard to secure its borders, but vowed that Egypt for its part would "never allow foreign monitors on its territories."
Recommend this article
Average (0 votes)
Sign in to recommend this article »
Most Recommended Stories »
Related Articles: World
NTSB: Airliner's engines lost power at same timeAP - 23 minutes ago
US military deaths in Iraq war at 4,228AP - 31 minutes ago
Obama celebratory, solemn as he nears inaugurationReuters - 34 minutes ago
Salvador's leftists try for first presidential winAP - 37 minutes ago
Hamas and Israel hold fire as Gazans reel at war's tollReuters - 45 minutes ago
Most Popular – World
Zimbabwe unveils $100 trillion banknote
'Dogs don't wear condoms,' says Baywatch star Anderson
Hamas announces one-week truce after Israel ceasefire
All aboard, as Obama takes slow train to power
Hormone drives sexy women to infidelity, says study
View Complete List »