January 7, 2009 / 4:56 PM / 11 years ago

U.N. squabbles as Rice presses Israel on Gaza

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Wednesday she had pressed Israel to seriously consider an Egyptian cease-fire plan for Gaza as the U.N. Security Council struggled to find a common approach.

Rice spoke by telephone on Wednesday to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and said she had detailed discussions with them on the conditions on the ground in Gaza as well as the Egyptian initiative.

“We’re supporting that initiative. I’ve been in very close discussions with my Arab colleagues but also with the Israelis about the importance of moving that initiative forward,” she said.

The plan offered by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak seeks to end the 12-day offensive that Israel launched with the declared aim of suppressing rocket fire from Hamas Islamist militants on its southern towns.

In Israel, officials said they accepted the “principles” of the proposal, but the details needed to be worked out.

Rice said she had also spoken to the Israelis about the need for a pause in violence, as happened on Wednesday for three hours, to allow for humanitarian aid to get through.

“That needs to be repeated again and again,” she said of the three-hour truce.

Rice, who extended her visit to New York, also sought to convince Arab ministers at the United Nations there was no need to move ahead with a Libyan-drafted resolution on Gaza which the United States and others view as strongly anti-Israeli.

Foreign ministers from Britain, France and the United States held several meetings with their Arab colleagues and proposed a more muted U.N. Security Council statement rather than a binding resolution to end the violence.

COUNCIL SPLIT

The Libyan draft resolution, which focuses heavily on Israel’s actions and makes only a fleeting reference to Palestinian rocket-firing, “demands an immediate and permanent cease-fire in the Gaza Strip.”

The nonbinding statement drafted by the three Western powers contains no demands but “stresses the urgent need for an immediate and durable cease-fire”. It also voices strong concern over the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

France’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Jean-Maurice Ripert, said after Security Council consultations that there was no agreement on either a resolution or the presidential statement and negotiations were continuing. France holds the presidency of the council.

“There is no unanimity on either of those texts,” Ripert told reporters outside the Council. However, he predicted that the council would reach some kind of consensus on Thursday.

U.S. ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said he hoped “on reflection” those opposed to the council president’s statement would change their positions.

“That is the best way to proceed,” said Khalilzad.

Earlier, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said he wanted a vote on the Libyan resolution and complained about “procrastination and neglect” on the part of the U.N. Security Council, saying U.N. credibility was at stake.

A U.S. official travelling with Rice made clear there were some differences with the Egyptian initiative but that Washington was particularly supportive of Egypt’s efforts to work with the Israelis.

“Some of the specifics on an immediate cease-fire are not consistent with what we were laying out,” said a U.S. official, adding that the United States wanted a “durable and sustainable” cease-fire without any time limit.

The Egyptian plan, partly brokered by France, calls for an end to the rocket attacks on Israel, the opening of Gaza border crossings and an end to weapons smuggling into Gaza.

More than 650 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed since the Israeli offensive began last month, according to medical officials. Ten Israelis, including three civilians hit by rocket fire, have been killed.

Additional reporting by Claudia Parsons, Patrick Worsnip and Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Eric Walsh and Jackie Frank

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