CAIRO: Arab League chief Nabil Al Arabi urged Hamas yesterday to accept an Egyptian proposal to end the fighting between the militants in Gaza and Israel that has killed almost 600 Palestinians.
“The Egyptian proposal clearly calls for a ceasefire. We hope Hamas accepts it,” he told reporters after meeting UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in Cairo, where US Secretary of State John Kerry also arrived to push for a truce. Israel accepted the Egyptian proposal last week but Hamas spurned it, demanding a guarantee that the Israeli and Egyptian blockade of Gaza, an impoverished coastal strip, be lifted.
Arabi referred to a clause in the Egyptian initiative that proposes border crossings into Gaza be opened once the security situation allows.
Hamas says that would leave the decision up to Israel, which enforced the blockade after militants seized one of its soldiers in 2006.
“Israel gets to assess of course the security situation,” a senior Hamas official said.
“Everything must be simultaneous: ending the (Israeli) aggression and ending the siege,” he added.
The United States is working for an “immediate” ceasefire in Gaza, President Barack Obama said yesterday, as the White House called on Israel to do more to protect Palestinian civilians.
While Israel has the right to defend itself against a barrage of Hamas rockets launched from the Gaza Strip, Washington has “serious concerns about the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths and the loss of Israeli lives,” Obama said.
“That is why it now has to be our focus and the focus of the international community to bring about a ceasefire that ends the fighting and that can stop the deaths of innocent civilians, both in Gaza and in Israel,” he said.
On a difficult mission to secure a truce, US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Cairo, which has mediated in past Israel-Palestinian conflicts and has taken the lead in trying to broker a ceasefire between Israel and its Islamist foe Hamas, which dominates the Gaza Strip.
The two-week conflict has dramatically escalated in recent days, with Israeli ground forces pushing into Gaza, where the Palestinian death toll stood at more than 570 as of late Monday.
More than 100,000 Palestinians had also been displaced from their homes, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees said.
Israel must do more to protect Palestinian civilians caught in the crossfire in the 14-day assault, the White House said.
“We would like the Israelis to take even greater steps to ensure the protection of civilians,” spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters.
It was “unacceptable” for Hamas “to continue firing rockets squarely at Israeli civilians,” he said. “At the same time, we also want to make sure that Israel is doing everything that they can to live up to their own standards related to protecting the welfare and well-being of innocent civilian bystanders.”AFP