Sarkozy heads out for Gaza peace push

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The Independent Online

The French President Nicolas Sarkozy's office says he has left for the Middle East to meet with Israeli, Palestinian and other regional leaders in a push to end the fighting in Gaza.








French President Nicolas Sarkozy has travelled to the Middle East to attempt to broker a peace deal in the troubled region





News of the visit came as it was reported that an Israeli shell killed three Palestinian children. And the UN chief urged the divided Security Council to work toward a speedy end to the escalating crisis.

Sarkozy's two-day trip starts in Sharm el-Sheikh with lunch with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The French leader then goes to Ramallah for talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and to Jerusalem to see Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Sarkozy will also go to Syria and Lebanon.

His office says he is seeking "paths for peace" in Gaza. France has been active in diplomatic efforts toward a cease-fire.

Sarkozy has condemned Israel's use of ground troops but also blamed Hamas for causing Palestinian suffering with rocket fire that led to the Israeli offensive.



* Israel's offensive in the Gaza Strip has inflicted heavy damage on Hamas and will continue until nearby Israeli communities are deemed to be safe from attack, Defence Minister Ehud Barak said on Monday.

"Hamas as so far sustained a very heavy blow from us, but we have yet to achieve our objective and therefore the operation continues," Barak said on Israeli radio before briefing parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee.

"The fundamental objective is to change the reality of security for the south," Barak said, referring to Israeli towns that have come under Palestinian rocket attack from Gaza.

He was speaking hours before French President Nicolas Sarkozy was due to meet Israeli leaders as part of a Middle East tour aimed at pushing international calls for a ceasefire.



* An Israeli tank shell killed three Palestinian children in their home in eastern Gaza City today, medical officials said.

They said several other Palestinians were wounded in the incident in Gaza's Zeitoun neighbourhood. An Israeli military spokeswoman said she was checking the report.



* Israeli forces killed seven members of a Palestinian family in a strike on their home in the Gaza Strip today, Palestinian medical officials said.

The attack at Beach refugee camp, on the outskirts of the city of Gaza, followed a separate shelling which killed three children and their mother, said medical officials.



* The UN chief urged the divided Security Council to work toward a speedy end to the escalating crisis in Gaza and planned to meet today with Arab ministers flying to New York to press for an immediate halt to the violence.

Late on Saturday, the United States blocked approval of a Security Council statement calling for an immediate ceasefire and expressing serious concern at the escalation of violence after Israeli tanks and artillery began a ground assault on Hamas-ruled Gaza, council diplomats said.

US deputy ambassador Alejandro Wolff said the United States saw no prospect of Hamas abiding by the council's earlier call for an immediate end to attacks on Israel.

Therefore, he said, a new statement at this time "would not be adhered to and would have no underpinning for success, (and) would not do credit to the council".

In a statement released on Sunday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said: "Given the crucial juncture at which we have arrived in the search for a ceasefire, I appeal to all members of the international community to display the unity and commitment required to bring this escalating crisis to an end."

Mr Ban said he "will be working actively with members of the council and other key players, in particular Arab leaders ... to facilitate the emergence of a consensus."

Mr Ban said he remains "extremely concerned about the deteriorating humanitarian situation" in Gaza.

The UN is in close contact with Israeli authorities to press them to open crossing into Gaza to allow in, particularly, wheat grain and fuel for the power plant, as well as other essential supplies, Mr Ban said.

The main power plant in Gaza has been shut down since Tuesday because Israel has blocked fuel deliveries, and UN officials have said they desperately need wheat flour.

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