UN chief says Gaza negotiations must intensify

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The Independent Online

The UN secretary-general today called for an immediate halt to the fighting in Gaza and said intense negotiations were needed to come up with the necessary arrangements.

Ban Ki-moon began a weeklong trip to the region in Egypt in diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis in the Gaza Strip, where an Israeli campaign to end Hamas rocket fire has killed over 940 Palestinians.



"My call is (for) an immediate end to violence in Gaza, and then to the Israeli military offensive and a halt to rocket attacks by Hamas," he told reporters after meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.



"It is intolerable that civilians bear the brunt of this conflict," he said, adding that the "negotiations need to be intensified to provide arrangements and guarantees in order to sustain an endurable cease-fire and calm."



Late last night, Ban flew from New York to Cairo, where Mubarak launched an initiative with France a week ago aimed at achieving a temporary halt to the fighting to be followed by a permanent cease-fire and arrangements on border security.



After Egypt, he heads to Jordan, Israel, the Palestinian-controlled West Bank, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria and Kuwait, where he said an Arab League economic summit will likely hold an extra session on the Gaza crisis. His itinerary does not include a stop in Gaza because of the ongoing conflict.



"I really wanted to visit Gaza at this time to share their sufferings," he told reporters in Egypt, but said it was impossible because of the current circumstances.



Egypt has been holding separate talks with representatives from Israel and Hamas, a militant Palestinian Islamic group that wrested control of Gaza from the Palestinian Authority in June 2007.



Once Egypt reaches an agreement with Hamas representatives, Israel is expected to send a negotiator to Cairo to be briefed.



Israel and Hamas do not meet face to face.



One possible solution to the crisis involves the use of Turkish troops as monitors, according to diplomats familiar with negotiations. Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit did not reject the possibility outright during the press conference with Ban, but rather said it was "premature" until agreement from Hams and the Palestinian Authority had been reached.AP — The UN secretary-general called on Wednesday for an immediate halt to the fighting in Gaza and said intense negotiations were needed to come up with the necessary arrangements.

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