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Europe

As Mediation Continues, Gaza Truce Threatened by Violence

Even as mediation efforts to restart Israeli-Arab peace talks continue in Europe and the Middle East, violence and threats of retaliation risk plunging Gaza into yet another crisis.

View of a destroyed home in the northern Gaza Strip

Gaza could see more violence if Hamas continues to break the ceasefire

On Monday, Feb. 2, French President Nicolas Sarkozy met with US Middle East envoy George Mitchell and the prime minister of Qatar in an effort to revive Israeli-Arab peace talks.

And on Tuesday, French officials met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is in Paris as part of a European tour to secure Fatah's role in negotiations on the future of the Gaza Strip.

But even as Abbas sought support for his goals of a unity government and a role in rebuilding Gaza, scattered violence continued to shake the fragile ceasefire that was reached on Jan. 18, when both sides said they would hold their fire.

A rocket launched from Gaza struck the Israeli port city of Ashkelon on Tuesday, officials said. There were no casualties, but Israel threatened to retaliate with "great force."

Israel's Foreign Affairs Minister Tzipi Livni

Israel's Foreign Affairs Minister Tzipi Livni

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, whose ruling centrist Kadima party is trailing in polls to right-wing opposition Likud in the run-up to elections on Feb. 10, called for a tough response.

"We have to react hard to this fire, otherwise the dissuasion balance created by our operation in Gaza will be affected," she told army radio.

Hamas talking with Egyptian mediators

In the meantime, Egyptian mediators are meeting with members of Hamas. Egypt has been trying to broker a long-term truce which would end Palestinian arms smuggling and lead to the reopening of the Gaza's border crossings. Responding to Egypt's mediation, Hamas said on Monday it would halt hostilities for a year if a deal were reached on lifting Israel's blockade of Gaza.

In order to get his own impression of the scale of Israel's 22-day offensive which killed more than 1,330 Palestinians, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt made a surprise visit to Gaza on Tuesday.

He began his one-day tour with a trip to the ruins of a cement-packing factory on the outskirts of Gaza City, and then stopped at a hospital that caught fire during the assault, forcing hundreds of patients and displaced people to flee after dark. He was expected to return to Israel later on Tuesday. Bildt was an early critic of Israel's offensive, saying it would complicate Middle East peace efforts.

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