- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 8, 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 cease-fire but it has to be a cease-fire 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. It did not spell out its objections, but in the past has criticized Arab-backed proposals at the United Nations for being unbalanced.

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

The United States was willing to back a council statement calling for “an immediate and durable cease-fire,” 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.

Long lines formed outside bakeries, which quickly ran out of bread. Israel allowed dozens of trucks filled with food and fuel from aid groups into Gaza.

There were conflicting reports on whether the Palestinians halted rocket fire during the period.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy 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.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak agreed to send a representative to Cairo on Thursday to get details on an Egyptian plan.

About 700 Palestinians have been killed during the Israeli offensive. U.N. officials say about one-quarter of the deaths were civilians. About a dozen Israelis have been killed.

A Western diplomat said that despite the appearance of diplomatic progress, the United States 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 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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