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Diplomatic Efforts Intensify as Israel's Gaza Offensive Continues


Diplomatic efforts to end the Gaza conflict have intensified with high level talks in Egypt, Jerusalem and the West Bank city of Ramallah. But, there were no signs of an imminent cease-fire as Israel pursued its ground and air offensive in Gaza.

A day of diplomacy, of talks, press conferences and statements, but no sign that an end to the fighting in Gaza is imminent.

After meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, French President Nicolas Sarkozy renewed calls for a cease-fire. His message to the Israelis - the violence must stop. At the same time he condemned Hamas for its rocket and mortar attacks against Israel.

Also in Ramallah for talks with President Abbas was international Middle East envoy Tony Blair with a similar message.

"We want an immediate cease fire that is fully respected on all sides," he said.

And earlier in Egypt, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana .

"We would like very much to obtain a cease-fire, the sooner the better," he said.

Those calls had little immediate effect on Israel. After meeting with a high-level European Union delegation in Jerusalem, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni repeated Israel's position that it would no longer stand by while Hamas militants launch rockets into Israel.

"I can understand the desire of the international community to see the region calm," she said. "This is our dream as well. This is what we are looking for. Unfortunately, there are those who cannot accept the idea of living in peace in this region."

The Israeli ground and air offensive continued and widened with thousands of Israeli soldiers reported in Gaza, supported by tanks, artillery, war planes, naval vessels and helicopter gun ships. As night fell, flares and explosions lit up the sky.

Throughout the day Hamas fired more than 30 rockets into Israel. Speaking on Hamas TV, Abu Obeida, spokesman for the military wing of Hamas vowed more of the same.

He warned if Israel's aggression against 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza does not stop - Hamas will fire its rockets deeper into Israel. We have a whole list of targets, he said.

Israel says it is weakening Hamas and targeting only sites linked to the militants. But medical officials in Gaza say many civilians are among those killed and injured. They say the Palestinian death toll is more than 520 with more than 2,000 injured and hospitals struggling to cope.

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