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Israel to Open Humanitarian Corridor to Gaza; Egypt Invites Parties to Cairo Talks

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told the U.N. Security Council Tuesday that Israel has agreed to open a humanitarian corridor into Gaza starting Wednesday. Meanwhile, Egypt's president has invited Israel and the Palestinian factions to talks in Cairo to end the escalation of violence. The U.N. Secretary-General has also announced he will go to the region next week.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and several foreign ministers participated in the high-level Security Council session Tuesday evening.

President Abbas said that after 11 days of Israeli military action his people are gravely suffering and he urged council members to call for an immediate end to the violence.

"All of those people, and the Arab and Islamic peoples, indeed the entire world opinion will accept no less than an urgent intervention by the Security Council to stop the fire and deter the aggressor," said President Abbas. "This is the message I am bearing, a message I believe cannot be subject to any prevarication or delay."

He expressed support for the just announced offer from Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to host both sides in talks, as early as Wednesday.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said Cairo's initiative calls for Israel and the Palestinian factions to accept an immediate cease-fire for a specific period. He said this would allow for opening secure corridors for relief assistance to Gaza and enable Egypt to continue its efforts to reach a comprehensive, durable and permanent cease-fire.

Israel has yet to respond to the Egyptian invitation and its U.N. envoy Gabriela Shalev did not mention the proposal when she addressed the council. Instead, she said Israel's incursion has dealt the Hamas infrastructure a major blow, destroying dozens of its factories and training bases, diminishing its stockpiles of rockets and destroying many of its smuggling tunnels.

She said Israel had no choice in the face of such attacks but to act.

"In the face of such terrorism we have no choice," said Gabriela Shalev. "We have to defend ourselves - not from the Palestinian people, but from the terrorists who have taken them hostage."

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told the council that the United States is deeply concerned about the situation in the Gaza Strip, which she said is "clearly worsening", but said that any cease-fire Washington would support must be durable and sustainable, and not a return to the status quo ante.

"We need very much to find a solution to this problem in the short term," said Condoleezza Rice. "But it really must be a solution this time that doesn't allow Hamas to use Gaza as launching pad against Israeli cities. It has to be a solution that does not allow the rearmament of Hamas, and it must be a solution that finds a way to open crossings so that Palestinians in Gaza can have normal life."

Secretary Rice said Washington is working "around the clock" to end the violence and said Israel had agreed to open a humanitarian corridor starting Wednesday to bring some relief to the people of Gaza.

Meanwhile, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he would go Israel, the occupied Palestinian territory and some regional capitals next week to help push diplomacy forward.

"But I do not believe we can wait until then to end the violence," said Ban Ki-moon. "We must achieve that now."

Mr. Ban repeated his calls for an immediate cease-fire that is durable and respected fully by all sides.

The Security Council has been unable to agree on a resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire, but diplomats say the effort is continuing to reach a consensus.

More than 600 Palestinians have died since Israel launched its air and ground assault 11 days ago. The United Nations estimates that one quarter of the victims have been civilians, including many children. Hamas rockets have killed at least four Israelis.