- The Washington Times - Monday, January 5, 2009

UNITED NATIONS — Senior Arab diplomats sought a U.N.-brokered truce Monday between Israel and Hamas, as walled off Gaza coped with backed up sewage, electricity blackouts and shortages of food, fuel and medicine.

Relief officials described the situation facing 1.5 million Gazans as desperate and growing ever more acute, while explosions and gunfire rocked some neighborhoods Gaza City.

“What is most urgently needed is a cease-fire,” said John Holmes, the senior U.N. official responsible for humanitarian relief.

Mr. Holmes’ remarks came as Arab foreign ministers sought backing at the United Nations for a truce. Since Israel began its air assault on Dec. 27, at least 540 Pakestinians have died.

Five Israelis have also been killed, including four from rocket fire that triggered the offensive.

Mr. Holmes said at least 25 percent of the injured are civilians, while acknowledging it is difficult to tell them apart from combatants.

The foreign ministers from seven Arab nations, the Palestinian Authority and Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa sought a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for an immediate cease fire.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is to visit New York Tuesday to appeal directly to the council, his government’s foreign minister, Raid Malki, told reporters.

“I came at the request of Mahmoud Abbas in order to start preparing for a draft resolution that will be presented to the Security Council as soon as possible,” Mr. Malki said.

Mr. Malki said he and fellow Arab foreign ministers planned to discuss the issue with U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon.

Israel launched its offensive, including a ground assault that began Saturday, after Gaza’s Hamas rulers refused to renew a six-month truce and began hitting Israeli towns and cities with rocket fire.

Israeli Foreign Minister Enud Barak warned Monday that the offensive had not degraded Hamas’ military strength.

“Difficult moments lie ahead in this operation and the main test could still be ahead,” he said.

In Washington, President Bush blamed Hamas for the war and said fighting would not stop unless the Islamist group stopped shooting rockets at Israel.

“Instead of caring about the people of Gaza, Hamas decided to use Gaza to use rockets to kill innocent Israelis,” Mr. Bush said.

In Washington, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called foreign officials and laid out three U.S. conditions for a cease fire, including a halt to rocket fire and provisions for relief supplies to enter Gaza.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the U.S. conditions also included provisions to close tunnels from Egypt that have been used to smuggle weapons and supplies.

“The secretary is trying to get the international system and various actors in the international system to coalesce around those three elements, Israel said Monday it would allow 80 trucks loaded with relief supplies to enter the territory. It denies Gaza faces a humanitarian crisis.

Rashid Khalidi, a Palestinian American who directs Middle East studies at Columbia University, rejected the Israeli claim.

He said he had spoken to a cousin in Gaza who told him “there are bodies in the streets and there is no heat.”

A delegation lead by French President Nicholas Sarkozy was due to meet Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Mr. Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, later Monday.

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