December 30, 2008 / 6:06 PM / 10 years ago

Mideast "Quartet" urges ceasefire in Gaza, Israel

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Senior officials from the “Quartet” of Middle East peace brokers, which includes the United States, called on Tuesday for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza and southern Israel, a U.N. spokeswoman said.

The call followed telephone talks by the officials of the Quartet — also grouping the United Nations, Russia and the European Union — on four days of Israeli air strikes on Gaza aimed at stamping out Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana were on the conference call, U.N. officials said.

“They called for an immediate cease-fire that would be fully respected,” said U.N. spokeswoman Marie Okabe. Similar calls have been issued by the EU and the U.N. Security Council.

“They called on all parties to address the serious humanitarian and economic needs in Gaza and to take necessary measures to ensure the continuous provision of humanitarian supplies,” Okabe said.

“They agreed on the urgent need for Israelis and Palestinians to continue on the road to peace,” she added in what was described as a “readout” of the Quartet discussions but not an official statement by the grouping.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, whose nation holds the EU rotating presidency until Wednesday, was among other officials on the call.

France has proposed a 48-hour cease-fire to allow aid into the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by Hamas Islamists. Israel says any truce proposal must include guarantees that Hamas will also respect it.

WHAT KIND OF CEASE-FIRE?

Okabe said earlier Ban had asked the Quartet officials to confer by telephone after he released a statement on Monday urging world leaders to do more to stop the violence.

Israel has said its military action into Gaza could last for weeks. Medical officials put Palestinian casualties since Saturday at 384 dead and more than 800 wounded. Four Israelis have been killed since the operation began.

During the crisis, semantic differences appear to have emerged between the United States and others on what kind of cease-fire is required. The White House and State Department have in recent days called for a “sustainable and durable” cease-fire that is fully respected by Hamas rather than an immediate one.

“We don’t just want a cease-fire for the sake of a cease-fire, only for violence to start up immediately, or within the next few weeks,” said White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe. “That serves no one’s interest.”

During the 2006 war between Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Israel, Rice was criticized for not publicly demanding an immediate cease-fire but a “sustainable” one. That was interpreted as giving Israel a green light to continue pounding Lebanon.

But on Tuesday, Rice appeared to follow other ministers in urging an immediate cease-fire between Hamas and Israel. A State Department spokesman, who released the same “readout” of the call as the U.N. spokeswoman, said the emphasis was that such a truce should be “fully respected.”

“If not, it cannot be called a cease-fire, no matter the time frame,” said the spokesman, who spoke on condition he not be named.

“A cease-fire that is sustainable and durable is one that is fully respected,” he added.

Additional reporting by Sue Pleming in Washington; Editing by Chris Wilson and Vicki Allen

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