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France's Sarkozy in push for Gaza ceasefire

world Updated: Jan 01, 2009 16:10 IST
AFP
Tzipi Livni

President Nicolas Sarkozy made a fresh push Thursday for a ceasefire in Gaza as Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was due in Paris for talks ahead of the French leader's trip to Israel next week.

Sarkozy will travel to Israel and the West Bank on Monday as part of a two-day Mideast tour that will take in Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, the French presidency announced Wednesday.

The trip comes after Israel rejected a French call for a 48-hour truce and launched fresh air strikes on the Gaza Strip, bringing the death toll from six days of violence to 400.

Defending Israel's rejection of a temporary ceasefire, Livni said Wednesday that Palestinian Hamas militants would use the truce to gain "a better position for the next attack" from Gaza, which they control since June 2007.

Sarkozy was to welcome Livni for talks at the Elysee presidential palace at 4 pm (1500 GMT).

In a New Year's message, the president said it was France's duty to "seek a path towards peace" after Israel launched the biggest military operation in Gaza in decades, in response to Hamas rocket attacks.

France wrapped up its six-month stint as president of the European Union with a proposal for a 48-hour truce in Gaza to allow for humanitarian relief.

But Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told a cabinet meeting on Wednesday that conditions were not ripe to halt bombardment, launched in response to persistent rocket fire from the Hamas-held territory.

Sarkozy is due to travel to Cairo on Monday for a working lunch with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, whose government is seeking to renew an Israel-Hamas ceasefire that it had brokered in 2008 and which expired in late December.

He then travels to Ramallah to meet with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, who has appealed for a ceasefire. A ministeral delegation from the European Union will also be present at the meeting.

Sarkozy ends his visit to Israel with a working dinner with Olmert in Jerusalem on Monday evening.

The UN Security Council meanwhile began consultations on a draft resolution proposed by Libya on behalf of a group of Arab countries condemning Israel for use of "excessive" force and calling for an immediate ceasefire.

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