Egypt renews truce call as Israel intensifies Gaza offensive

by Reuters
Friday, 18 July 2014 18:48 GMT

By Michael Georgy and John Irish

CAIRO, July 18 (Reuters) - Egypt renewed its call for a truce to end the conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza on Friday and France asked Qatar to use its influence with the Palestinian movement to reach a ceasefire.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri, speaking at a news conference in Cairo with his French counterpart Laurent Fabius, urged all sides to engage in negotiations to end the bloodshed.

Shukri said he had increased his efforts to convince the main players to accept an Egyptian ceasefire proposal. An earlier Cairo initiative was accepted by Israel but rejected by Hamas.

"We hope that all sides will support this initiative so that bloodshed stops and this escalation does not get worse. We call on all sides to accept this proposal. We are working to find a framework so that both sides agree," Shukri said.

Israel intensified its ground offensive in Gaza, a densely-populated enclave of 1.8 million Palestinians, with artillery, tanks and gunboats on Friday. The Israeli land advance followed 10 days of barrages against Gaza from air and sea, and hundreds of rockets fired by Hamas into Israel.

In total nearly 270 Palestinians, most of them civilians, and two Israelis have been killed.

Fabius told Reuters that France had asked Qatar, which has close links with Hamas, to help to reach a ceasefire.

"President Mahmoud Abbas asked me to use France's influence with its partners to try to convince Hamas to accept a ceasefire," he said, referring to the Palestinian Authority's president, Mohamed Abbas, whom he met earlier on Friday.

"With regard to Qatar, I told my counterpart our analysis of the situation and he underlined that, in his opinion, Hamas would need points to negotiate and, in particular, a lifting of the blockade on Gaza to accept a ceasefire," he said.

Egypt, which has brokered ceasefires in previous Israeli-Palestinian flare-ups, sees Hamas as a security threat because it is an offshoot of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, which was removed from power by the Egyptian army last year.

Shukri has said Hamas could have saved Palestinian lives if it had accepted the first initiative presented by Egypt.

Hamas leaders said they were frozen out of talks and not consulted on the Egyptian initiative, and that it did not address their demands, such as an end to a blockade of Gaza by Israel and Egypt.

Highlighting the difficulties in getting all sides to agree, Qatar's foreign minister appeared to rebuff Fabius.

Minister Khaled al-Attiyah received a phone call from Fabius on Friday in which they searched for ways to reach a ceasefire agreement, the state news agency said.

Qatar emerged as a leading supporter of Islamist groups after Arab Spring protests that began in 2011, and sees the standoff as a chance to prove itself as a mediator. It hosts a number of exiled Islamists from across the Middle East, including Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal.

Fabius meets the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Saturday before travelling to Jordan and Israel to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"What we need to do is to avoid falling into this vicious cycle where we won't have a ceasefire without talks, and vice versa," Fabius said.

(Reporting by John Irish and Michael Georgy, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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