- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 7, 2009

UNITED NATIONS | A rift between the United States and Arab foreign ministers blocked efforts by the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday to halt the war in Gaza between Israel and Hamas.

“The U.S. and others are working hard to get to a ceasefire but it has to be a ceasefire that will not allow a return to the status quo,” said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has spent two days here, negotiating with Arab diplomats and members of the 15-nation council.

Washington said it would not accept a legally binding resolution proposed by Libya, the only Arab nation on the council, because it was unbalanced.

“There is no unanimity in the council today,” said French Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert.

The U.S. was willing to back a council statement calling for “an immediate and durable ceasefire,” dismantling illicit supply tunnels between Egypt and Gaza, reopening Gaza’s borders with Egypt and immediate access by Gazans to humanitarian supplies.

Earlier Wednesday, Israel stopped shooting during a three-hour window to allow Palestinians to pick up supplies of food, fuel, water and medicine.

During the halt, Palestinians continued to fire rockets at Israeli cities and towns.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is visiting the Middle East, said that Israel and the Palestinian Authority had embraced a French-Egyptian proposal for a cease-fire.

But Israeli officials offered only a tepid endorsement of the proposal. The Palestinian Authority has little sway over Gaza, which was seized by Hamas in 2007.

A Western diplomat said that despite the appearance of diplomatic progress, the U.S. might need to become more actively engaged in the process before there’s an accord.

“A diplomatic solution is some way off,” said the diplomat, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the subject. “I don’t necessarily think the French-Egyptian proposal is going to be the final one.”

Israel launched its offensive on Dec. 27, days after Hamas refused to extend a six-month cease fire. Hamas militants have fired dozens of rockets at Israel daily. Joshua Mitnick reported from Tel Aviv.

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