Israel rejects EU calls for ceasefire

Israel rebuffed a call from visiting European foreign ministers on Monday for an immediate ceasefire in its Gaza offensive, as troops engaged in their heaviest clashes with Hamas fighters and the civilian death toll mounted. At least 14 children were reported to have been killed.

Speaking after a meeting with a European Union delegation that included foreign ministers from the Czech Republic, France and Sweden, Tzipi Livni, the Israeli foreign minister, said: “A necessary war on terror does not end with an agreement. We don’t sign agreements with terror; we fight terror.”

Nicolas Sarkozy, French president and one of the first international leaders to call for Israeli restraint, was expected to arrive later in the day. But Israeli officials appeared defiant, cautioning against expecting too much from the diplomatic activity.

Israel considers European proposals for a monitoring force on Gaza’s southern border with Egypt too weak. It wants to ensure that any ceasefire includes what one Israeli diplomat called a “trusted presence” on the border, the main route for Hamas’ weapons smuggling.

“The question is: what will they [monitors] do if Hamas starts shooting at them? Will they take notes and file a report or will they go after them,” the Israeli diplomat said. “And if they are supposed to go after the shooters, show me the country that will send its soldiers or policemen into Gaza.”

Amid reports of heavy fighting in the northern Gaza Strip, the death toll rose to 540 Palestinians since the start of the 10-day offensive. According to the United Nations, the fighting has brought the water and sewage system close to collapse, while hospitals struggle to cope with casualties and the lack of power.

The Islamist group sent a delegation to Egypt for talks but it also continued firing rockets into nearby Israeli towns.

Riyad Mansour, Palestinian envoy to the UN, said Arab ministers would press the UN Security Council on Tuesday for a resolution calling for a ceasefire including a clause mandating the deployment of an international force on Gaza’s borders.

In Gaza City, 13 members of the same family died when an Israeli tank shell hit their house. The victims included three children and their mother.

Additional reporting by James Blitz in London

By Tobias Buck in Jerusalem and James Blitz in London
Published: January 5 2009 18:48 | Last updated: January 5 2009 20:28

Source: Financial Times

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