- The Washington Times - Monday, January 5, 2009

PARIS (Agence France-Presse)

Moves for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza foundered at the United Nations, even as the Israeli ground assault provoked cries of alarm worldwide.

U.S. Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations Alejandro Wolff said after the four-hour session that Washington thought it was important the region “not return to the status quo” that had allowed Hamas militants to fire rockets into Israel.

Objections from the United States prevented the U.N. Security Council from agreeing on a joint statement.

“The efforts we are making internationally are designed to establish a sustainable, durable cease-fire that’s respected by all,” Mr. Wolff said. “And that means no more rocket attacks. It means no more smuggling of arms.”

President-elect Barack Obama maintained his silence on the latest events, having stressed that President Bush was in charge until his inauguration Jan. 20.

A Russian presidential envoy and an EU ministerial mission headed to the Middle East to try to arrange a cease-fire.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown echoed European concerns when he said Israel’s ground offensive launched Saturday was a “very dangerous moment” in the conflict, and he called for increased efforts to rapidly secure a halt in the fighting.

The assault was condemned across the Middle East, with Egypt saying the U.N. Security Council’s silence on Israel’s campaign of air strikes had effectively given Israel “a green light” for the ground assault.

Asian nations expressed alarm, too, with Pakistan and China calling for an immediate end to the ground operation.

As thousands of Israeli soldiers and scores of tanks pushed into Gaza, Britain’s Mr. Brown said assurances needed to be given to both the Israelis and Hamas to secure a cease-fire.

“I think everybody around the world is expressing grave concerns. What we’ve got to do almost immediately is to work harder than we’ve done for an immediate cease-fire,” he told BBC television.

“I can see the Gaza issues for the Palestinians - that they need humanitarian aid - but the Israelis must have some assurance that there are no rocket attacks coming into Israel.

“So first we need an immediate cease-fire, and that includes a stopping of the rockets into Israel,” he said.

Mr. Brown also called for Arab powers to unite to stop the supply of arms to Gaza and said Egypt’s assistance would be crucial in shutting the illegal tunnels used to channel weapons to the enclave.

Russia described the ground offensive as a “dangerous escalation” and sent President Dmitry Medvedev’s special envoy for the Middle East, Alexander Saltanov, to the region, hoping to help engineer a diplomatic breakthrough.

“It is essential, without delay, to put an end to the suffering of the civilian population on both sides, to stop the bloodshed and secure a mutual cease-fire,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

As an EU ministerial delegation traveled to Cairo on a mission that will also include Jerusalem and Ramallah on the West Bank, EU foreign-policy chief Javier Solana said European nations stood ready to contribute international monitors to help keep the peace.

“The cease-fire has to be a cease-fire complied [with] by everybody and be clearly maintained,” Mr. Solana told the BBC.

At least 500 Palestinians, including 87 children, have died in Israel’s nine-day offensive on Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip, medics said Sunday.

Rocket fire from Gaza over the same period has killed four Israelis, and Israel announced its first military death of the conflict Sunday.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said Israel’s incursion into the impoverished territory was in “brazen defiance” of international calls to end the offensive, and he also criticized the United Nations for failing to act.

“The Security Council’s silence and its failure to take a decision to stop Israel’s aggression since it began was interpreted by Israel as a green light,” he said.

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