Worldwide alarm at Israeli ground offensive
AFP - Monday, January 5
PARIS (AFP) - - Israel's tank and troop assault on the Gaza Strip provoked worldwide cries of alarm on Sunday, but Israel won heavyweight US backing and moves for an immediate ceasefire foundered at the United Nations.
A Russian presidential envoy and an EU ministerial mission headed to the Middle East to try to bring new impetus to the search for a ceasefire.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown echoed European concerns when he said Israel's ground offensive launched Saturday was a "very dangerous moment" in the conflict, and he called for increased efforts to rapidly secure a halt in the fighting.
The assault was condemned across the Middle East, with Egypt saying the UN Security Council's silence on Israel's campaign of air strikes had effectively given Israel "a green light" for the ground assault.
Asian nations expressed alarm, too, with Pakistan and China calling for an immediate end to the ground operation.
But the Security Council failed even to agree on a statement calling for a ceasefire after the United States argued that a return to the situation that existed before Israel's ground invasion was unacceptable.
US deputy ambassador Alejandro Wolff said after the four-hour sitting that Washington believed it was important the region "not return to the status quo" that had allowed Hamas militants to fire rockets into Israel.
"The efforts we are making internationally are designed to establish a sustainable, durable ceasefire that's respected by all," Wolff said. "And that means no more rocket attacks. It means no more smuggling of arms."
US President-elect Barack Obama maintained his silence on the latest events, having stressed that President George W. Bush was in charge until his inauguration January 20.
As thousands of Israeli soldiers and scores of tanks pushed into Gaza, Britain's Brown said assurances needed to be given to both the Israelis and Hamas to secure a ceasefire.
"I think everybody around the world is expressing grave concerns. What we've got to do almost immediately is to work harder than we've done for an immediate ceasefire," he told BBC television.
"I can see the Gaza issues for the Palestinians -- that they need humanitarian aid -- but the Israelis must have some assurance that there are no rocket attacks coming into Israel.
"So first we need an immediate ceasefire, and that includes a stopping of the rockets into Israel," he said.
Brown also called for Arab powers to unite to stop the supply of arms to Gaza and said Egypt's assistance would be crucial in shutting the illegal tunnels used to channel weapons to the enclave.
Russia described the ground offensive as a "dangerous escalation" and sent President Dmitry Medvedev's special envoy for the Middle East, Alexander Saltanov, to the region, hoping to help engineer a diplomatic breakthrough.
"It is essential, without delay, to put an end to the suffering of the civilian population on both sides, to stop the bloodshed and secure a mutual ceasefire," the Russian foreign ministry said.
As an EU ministerial delegation travelled to Cairo to start a whistle-stop tour which will also include Jerusalem and Ramallah on the West Bank, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said European nations stood ready to contribute international monitors to help keep peace.
"The ceasefire has to be a ceasefire complied (with) by everybody and be clearly maintained," Solana told the BBC.
At least 500 Palestinians, including 87 children, have died in Israel's nine-day offensive on Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip, medics said on Sunday.
Rocket fire from Gaza over the same period has killed four Israelis and Israel announced its first military death of the conflict on Sunday.
European reaction to the ground offensive revealed a sharp difference in tone from the official US line.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said the decision to send troops into Gaza was a "dangerous military escalation."
The European Union's new Czech presidency said Israel's ground operation was more "defensive than offensive," but later said the statement was issued in error and altered its reaction to a call for a ceasefire.
For his part, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit said Israel's incursion into the impoverished territory was in "brazen defiance" of international calls to end the offensive -- and he blamed the UN for failing to act.
"The Security Council's silence and its failure to take a decision to stop Israel's aggression since it began was interpreted by Israel as a green light," he said.
In Asia, Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso warned that Israel's offensive would only aggravate difficulties for all concerned.
"I'm very worried that the dispatch of ground troops will make the situation much worse," he said.
Recommend this article
Average (0 votes)
Sign in to recommend this article »
Most Recommended Stories »
Related Articles: World
Israeli troops and tanks slice deep into GazaAP - 30 minutes ago
Woman suicide bomber kills 35 near Baghdad shrineAFP - 37 minutes ago
Thousands in Lebanon, Turkey protest Israel attackAP - 41 minutes ago
Richardson withdraws bid to be commerce secretaryAP - 46 minutes ago
Grandma, guardsman, girl: War's toll felt at homeAP - 53 minutes ago
Most Popular – World
US steel industry in collapse, eyes government aid: report
Israeli army storms Gaza as Palestinian toll passes 500
Rare Bugatti untouched for 50 years could fetch millions: report
World's oldest person dies at the age of 115
John Travolta's teenage son dies, autopsy planned
View Complete List »