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Diplomats Work Against the Clock to Mediate Gaza Ceasefire


The Egyptian capital, Cairo, is buzzing with diplomatic activity, as European and Arab diplomats scramble to put together a cease-fire in Gaza, amid increasingly strident calls from Arab public opinion to halt Israel's invasion of the enclave.

A delegation of European Union Foreign Ministers, followed by a visit by French President Nicholas Sarkozy within 24 hours, are leading off a new round of diplomatic activity here in the Egyptian capital Cairo, as Arab public opinion continues to call for an immediate halt to hostilities in Gaza.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit, said President Mubarak has sent messages to Israel, via diplomatic channels, urging it to, in his words "return to the language of reason."

Aboul Gheit also said Egypt is hosting a delegation from the militant Palestinian Hamas movement, which controls Gaza, to discuss how to reach a cease-fire with Israel:

He said Egypt has asked Hamas to send a delegation with authority to negotiate to Cairo to discuss how to achieve a cease-fire and to mediate some sort of inter-Palestinian reconciliation with the rival Fatah faction of President Mahmoud Abbas.

Damascus-based Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal has said on several occasions that his group will no longer recognize the legitimacy of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas when his term in office officially ends on January 9.

Hamas is also demanding that all six border crossings into Gaza be opened for a cease-fire to be concluded. Egypt, on the other hand, wants both the European Union and President Abbas' Fatah faction to control the crossings before they can reopen.

To further complicate the situation, Damascus-based Islamic Jihad leader Ramadan Abdallah Challah, insisted that such a solution will be opposed by his group and Hamas, and foreign observers [who come to monitor a truce] will be treated as hostile forces.

He said anyone contemplating such an [international] solution and thinking of sending their sons to Gaza as part of an international force should be warned that the resistance will consider them an enemy come to protect Israel.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has shuttled across the Middle East during the past week to mediate a cease-fire in Gaza, accused Israel of "not respecting a truce" that was being negotiated with Hamas. He accused Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of "not respecting Turkey's role" in the diplomatic mission, as well.

Syrian Foreign Minister Waleed al-Muallem, on a visit to Ankara, declared that Damascus had broken off indirect peace talks with Israel, out of respect for the people of Gaza.

Indirect peace talks with Israel, he said, were supposed to be conducted in the absence of any Israeli military actions, [as he said Turkey is aware]. So, he said, it was normal to cut the talks off when Israel brutally attacked Gaza.

Arab demonstrators, meanwhile, continued to take to the streets in various cities, putting further pressure on mediators to reach a cease-fire. For the second day, demonstrators in Beirut tried to break through barbed wire to reach the U.S. Embassy, but were turned back by riot police.

In the Persian Gulf, Qatar's Emir Hamid ben Khalifa al Thani told al Jazeera TV that a disputed emergency Arab summit should be held at week's end if no diplomatic solution to the Gaza crisis is reached before then.

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