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US Envoy Calls for Israel to Open Gaza Borders

Luis Ramirez

U.S. Mideast Envoy George Mitchell is calling for Israel to open its borders to the Gaza Strip.  Mitchell - on a fact-finding tour of the Middle East - met with Palestinian officials in the West Bank. The visit has been marred by violence that threatens to shatter a fragile cease-fire. 

Militants in the Gaza Strip fired another rocket into Israel, the second in as many days, and Israel responded with more air strikes over the southern part of the Strip, hitting what it says was a weapons facility.  Palestinian officials say one person was killed in Gaza.

The new violence occurred as U.S. President Barack Obama's Mideast Envoy George Mitchell continued his visit to the region.  After meeting with Israeli leaders Wednesday, he crossed the border into the West Bank to meet with President Mahmoud Abbas and other Palestinian officials. 

At a news conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Mitchell urged Israel to open Gaza border crossings to trade.

"To be successful in preventing the illicit traffic of arms into Gaza, there must be a mechanism to allow the flow of legal goods and that should be with the participation of the Palestinian Authority," he said.

Israel says it will not consider opening the Gaza border crossings until Hamas hands over an Israeli soldier captured by militants in Gaza in 2006.

Mitchell did not meet with Hamas representatives in the West Bank.

In Gaza City, journalist Mohammed Dawwas, reporting for VOA, says many people with whom he has spoken view the U.S. envoy's visit with pessimism.

"They have a lot of experience from the past," he said. "Many envoys came here and never changed anything.  Nothing was ever achieved by any American envoy coming to the region especially to solve the Palestinian issue.  People do not have any trust in this visit there, the majority."

Meanwhile, Hamas' leader Ismail Haniyeh gave his first interview since Israel ended its 22-day offensive on Gaza.  He spoke to the Arabic-language television network al-Jazeera.

He said the United States has no interest in clashing with the Arab world.  He said he hopes the new U.S. president will change the policies of his predecessor.  He also said Hamas' main aim is to reconcile with the rival Fatah faction that controls the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

Hamas - whose charter calls for the destruction of the State of Israel - forcibly seized control of the Gaza Strip from Fatah after winning elections in 2006.

Israeli forces launched a 22-day offensive against Hamas in an effort to stop the launching of rockets into Israeli communities that had been going on for years.  Palestinian officials say nearly 1,300 people died in Gaza during the Israeli assault.

Israel says it is prepared to resume the offensive if the cross-border attacks from Gaza continue.

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