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Israel Rejects Ceasefire Talk as EU Toils to Align Peace Efforts

Israel has rejected calls by visiting EU diplomats for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. Meanwhile, the EU struggles to coordinate its own peace efforts with those of French President Nicolas Sarkozy's parallel mission.

Israeli troops prepare to entare Gaza

Israel rejected EU calls for a ceasfire and said it would decide when to stop operations

"We are fighting with terror and we are not reaching an agreement with terror," she said, in reference to the Islamist Hamas rulers in Gaza.

Israel, she said, wanted the world to let it "conduct the war against terrorism until we decide to stop," adding that the aim was to change the "equation" whereby Hamas could fire rockets at the Jewish state and not get a response.

In contrast, a delegation of EU diplomats meeting on Monday in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak reiterated calls for an immediate end to Israel's offensive.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, center, meets with European Union diplomatic mission to the Middle East from left to right, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit, EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner, and Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt

The EU delegates first met with President Mubarak

"We presented the Israeli foreign minister with the view of the European Union that a ceasefire should be established as soon as possible as... the rockets have to stop," Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, told reporters in a joint media conference.

"We are not sharing the view that a ceasefire is only possible if all... aims of the Israeli actions are achieved," he said. "We do think that the ceasefire should be as early as possible."

Following talks in Egypt, the EU delegation which also includes EU Foreign Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner and the foreign ministers of France and Sweden, departed for further stops in Jerusalem, Ramallah and Amman.

Sarkozy on parallel mission

Parallel to the delegation visit, French President Nicolas Sarkozy is also in the region, traveling in his capacity as co-president of the Union for the Mediterranean.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy takes leave of Israeli foreign ministerTzipi Livni following their meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, Thursday Jan. 1, 2009.

Sarkozy said France has a particular responsibility

But as Sarkozy has just relinquished the EU presidency, his visit has raised eyebrows in Brussels, where some observers interpret it as signalling French mistrust in Czech abilities to handle such a delicate mission.

That speculation grew at the weekend after a Czech government spokesman described Israel's land invasion of the Gaza Strip as "defensive" -- a label which contradicted earlier French statements that Israel's bombardment of the strip had been disproportionate.

The spokesman later retracted his words and offered to resign, but not before reports that the EU was divided over Gaza had spread widely in the media.

Diplomats in Brussels on Monday were keen to play down the idea of a split, but they insisted that the Czech-led EU visit should not be eclipsed by Sarkozy's mission.

"The EU mission is the centre of action," European Commission spokesman Amadeu Altafaj said.

The aim of both missions is to broker a truce between Israel and Hamas, ensure the access of humanitarian aid to Gaza and re-launch the peace process between Israel and Palestinians.

Israel outlines conditions for ceasefire

Israel launched "Operation Cast Lead" on December 27 with the declared aim of halting rocket fire against southern Israel and smashing Hamas' military strength. More than 520 Palestinians have been killed in the offensive.

Israel's "fundamental principles" for ending the offensive include "substantially destroying" Hamas' military power, deterring Hamas from firing rockets into southern Israel and creating a mechanism to prevent Hamas from rearming through smuggling tunnels linking Gaza and Egypt, a senior Israeli official said.



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