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US Envoy Warns of Setbacks Ahead in Israel Gaza Peace Process


President Barack Obama's new special envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell has warned there will be setbacks in the effort to bring peace in the Gaza Strip. Mitchell spoke Friday in Jerusalem as he continued his tour of the region.

Envoy describes trip as 'fact-finding mission'

He met this week with the leaders of Egypt, Israel and the Palestinian territories.

For Senator Mitchell, it is a fact-finding mission in which he is gathering information to relay back to the U.S. President as the new administration begins shaping its policy on the Middle East.

Speaking at a U.N. warehouse in Jerusalem, Mitchell indicated the challenges that lie ahead in resolving the latest flare-up in the Israeli Palestinian conflict.

"The tragic violence in Gaza and in southern Israel offers a sobering reminder of the very serious and difficult challenges and unfortunately the setbacks that will come," he said.

Open Gaza border crossings, Mitchell urges Israel

Mitchell has urged Israel to open its border crossings with Gaza to commercial trade. He said doing so would help end the smuggling of weapons materials to militants who have been firing rockets at southern Israel.

Israel - which controls border crossings to Gaza - has been allowing some relief supplies such as food and plastic sheeting to cross into the Strip. However, residents complain that construction materials needed for rebuilding the thousands of homes that were destroyed in the 22-day Israeli offensive are not getting through.

Obama deeply concerned about loss of life in Gaza

The U.S. envoy said the new U.S. president has expressed deep concern about the loss of life and suffering in Gaza, and he said more money for relief efforts is on the way.

"I'm pleased to announce that this week, the President directed the use of another $20.3 million to provide emergency food and medical assistance to the wounded and displaced in Gaza," he said.

Mitchell said the funds are in addition to the nearly $40 million in financial support that the United States has already pledged since the start of the Israeli assault in late December.

US calls for sustainable, durable cease-fire

The U.S. envoy repeated the administration's call for a consolidation of a sustainable a durable cease-fire in Gaza following the 22-day Israeli offensive that Palestinian officials say killed 1,300 people. Thirteen Israelis died in the conflict before a January 18 cease-fire.

Israel's aim in the offensive was to destroy the militants' ability to fire rockets from Gaza into southern Israel as they had been doing for years. Israeli military officials said they remain ready to restart the offensive if the attacks continue.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Friday said the cease-fire is likely to hold because, he said, Hamas sustained what he described as "a very severe blow" during the offensive.

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