US envoy George Mitchell met with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas on Thursday as spiralling Gaza violence threatened to shatter ceasefires that ended a war in the Hamas-run enclave.
Mitchell arrived in the occupied West Bank’s political capital of Ramallah a day after holding talks with senior Israeli leaders in Jerusalem.
He went immediately into talks with the 75-year-old former US senator, who helped broker peace in Northern Ireland in 1998.
Mitchell, making his maiden tour of the region, has said it is vital that the Gaza ceasefire be consolidated.
The former senator was appointed Middle East envoy by US President Barack Obama, tasked with vigorously rescucitating the lifeless Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
Abbas has angrily hit out at the Jewish state in the wake of its deadliest ever war in Gaza that ended with Israel and the enclave’s Hamas rulers declaring mutual ceasefires on January 18.
In Gaza, violence kept spiralling on Thursday with 18 Palestinians, including 11 schoolchildren and a pregnant woman, wounded in an Israeli air strike that targetted a Hamas policeman in the southern town of Khan Yunis, medics said. The Hamas man was also wounded in the attack.
Israeli warplanes bombed smuggling tunnels on Gaza’s border with Egypt and militants in the coastal strip fired two rockets into the Jewish state. The attacks did not injure anyone but further stoked tensions that have been rising since Tuesday when an Israeli soldier was killed in a militant bombing after 10 days of calm that followed a 22-day war. Israeli officials, in the midst of campaigning for February 10 legislative polls, vowed that they would hit back hard at any strike and warned Gaza’s borders would remain closed if attacks continued.
‘Open Gaza border’
Mitchell said that opening the Gaza Strip to commercial goods would help to choke off the smuggling that Israel fears could replenish Hamas’s weapons stocks. But he said the Palestinian Authority of President Mahmoud Abbas must help to supervise the crossings, a demand that has been a major sticking point in Egyptian-brokered negotiations with Hamas rulers for a long-term ceasefire.