The Obama administration's new U.S. Middle East envoy, George Mitchell,
is calling for a strengthening of the cease-fire in Gaza. Mitchell
arrived in Israel Wednesday as part of his efforts to boost the fragile
Israel prepared to receive the new American envoy on Wednesday, its
military launched air strikes on tunnels in southern Gaza along the
border with Egypt.
The attack was yet another sign of how
fragile the cease-fire remains. Speaking in Cairo before leaving for
Israel, U.S. envoy George Mitchell called for a lasting peace deal.
is of critical importance that the cease-fire be extended and
consolidated and we support Egypt's continuing efforts in that regard,"
In Egypt, the U.S. envoy met with President Hosni
Mubarak and discussed Egypt's efforts to secure an agreement to end
hostilities. Mitchell's mission is to hear from leaders in the region
before reporting his findings to President Barack Obama.
Mitchell said the new U.S. administration is committed to vigorously pursuing lasting peace and stability.
decision by President Obama to dispatch me to come to this region less
than one week after his inauguration is a clear and tangible evidence
of this commitment," he said.
Mitchell's agenda Wednesday
included meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and President
Shimon Peres. On Thursday, he is due in the West Bank for talks with
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Hamas officials say about
1,300 people - many of them women and children - were killed in
Israel's 22-day assault on militants in Gaza. Israel and some
international journalists say the figure has not been independently
verified. The fighting stopped on January 18 after both sides declared
Israel's air strikes on tunnels, a
Palestinian bomb attack that killed one Israeli soldier along the Gaza
border on Tuesday and an Israeli incursion into Gaza that followed, are
raising concerns that a full-scale assault could resume.
Top Israeli security officials met on Wednesday to discuss how far to go in their response to attacks from militants in Gaza.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak had scheduled a visit to Washington this
week, but a senior Israeli official on Wednesday said the trip was
canceled due to the new flare-ups of violence.