As Attacks Continue, Diplomats Attempt to Negotiate Gaza Cease-fire

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for an “immediate and durable ceasefire” on Wednesday during his visit to the region. Ban met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo as Egypt tries to broker a cease-fire deal between Hamas and Israel.

But the negotiations left some details on a final proposal unfinished.

“If the initiative is accepted, it will be in accordance with the position set out by Hamas at the start, namely an Israeli withdrawal, a cease-fire and the opening of the crossing points,” Moussa Abu Marzouk, the deputy to Hamas’ political leader Khaled Meshal told Al Jazeera on Tuesday. Israel has maintained a blockade to isolate the Gaza Strip.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has stated that the goal of the Israeli offensive is to stop the rocket fire that has hit its towns. Israel has also demanded that any cease-fire must prevent Hamas from rearming.

Israeli officials did not comment on the discussions, though the country’s Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said in a statement that Israel retains its right to military action “even if an international solution is found to the smuggling issue,” Reuters reported.

Hamas fired more rockets into Israel on Wednesday but they caused no causalities.
Israel carried out air strikes overnight as the ground offensive moves closer to Gaza’s heavily-populated urban centers.

“We have achieved a lot in hitting Hamas and its infrastructure, its rule and its armed wing, but there is still work ahead,” Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, the Israeli military chief of staff, told the Israeli parliament on Tuesday, the Washington Post reported.

While negotiations continue in Egypt, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah called for Gulf Arab countries to hold an emergency meeting in Riyadh, the Saudi news channel al-Ikhbariya reported according to Reuters. Both Egypt and Saudi Arabia have refused to attend a similar gathering to address Israel’s attack on Gaza hosted by Qatar.
Egypt, the only Arab country that shares a border with Gaza, has been criticized by the Arab world since the beginning of the conflict for continuing to enforce an Israeli blockade on the Palestinian territory.

The conflict started with Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip in retaliation for Hamas launching rockets into Southern Israel. Ten soldiers and three civilians have been killed by Hamas’ cross-border rockets Israel says.

The number of Palestinians killed since the conflict began on Dec. 27 reached at least 1,000 on Wednesday, the health ministry in Gaza reported. Israel says it is trying to avoid civilian casualties in its air strikes and ground offensive, but that Hamas militants operate from schools and other civilian sites. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights based in Gaza put the civilian toll at 673 over the 19-day war.

The International Coalition against Impunity, a Palestinian rights group appealed to the International Criminal Court in The Hague to investigate war crimes committed against Palestinians.

“They are using terrorist weapons to conduct crimes against humanity,” said the group’s leader May Sobhi Khansa, Reuters reported.

But the ICC responded that it lacked jurisdiction over possible war crimes in the Gaza Strip because it is limited to crimes alleged to have been committed on the territory of, or by a national of, a state party to the court’s founding statute. Israel is not a member state.

The matter could still be considered if Israel voluntarily accepted the court’s jurisdiction, or if it is referred to the court by the Security Council. The Security Council has exercised this option only once before in 2005 to probe the situation in Sudan’s western Darfur region.

Israel has agreed to daily three-hour cease-fires to allow for humanitarian aide into Gaza, though human rights groups have said the strip still suffers from shortages of vital supplies.

Al-Qaida leader Osama bin-Laden added his voice to the conflict on Wednesday calling for jihad, or holy war, against Israel.

“We are with you and we will not let you down. Our fate is tied to yours in fighting the Crusader-Zionist coalition, in fighting until victory or martyrdom,” bin-Laden said in audio posted to Islamist Web sites.

The speaker on the tape could not be immediately verified, the New York Times reported, but the voice resembled that of bin-Laden.

On another front, rockets fired from Lebanon hit northern Israel, the second attack in a week. No group claimed responsibility. Israel responded to the rockets with artillery fire. Israel fought a war with Hezbollah, the militant Shiite group in Lebanon, in 2006, but Hezbollah said it was not responsible for the attacks.

Across the globe in Boliva, President Evo Morales said his country would cut ties with Israel. Last week, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez ousted Israel’s ambassador.