U.S. Wants Sustainable Cease-Fire In Gaza

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has held off calling for an immediate cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, preferring what she calls a more durable solution to make sure Hamas can't continue to fire rockets into Israel. But others say waiting too long to get a truce won't help.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's Morning Edition from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

ARI SHAPIRO, host:

And I'm Ari Shapiro. As more Palestinian civilians die in Gaza, there are growing calls for a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. The Bush administration says it would like a quick end to the fighting, but a cease-fire has to last. That means making sure Hamas stops firing rockets into Israel. NPR's Michele Kelemen has more.

MICHELE KELEMEN: As foreign ministers of the U.N. Security Council gathered yesterday afternoon, a U.N. official in Gaza, John Ging, appealed for help. He said there's simply nowhere that's safe anymore. U.N. schools where Palestinians sought shelter have been hit by Israeli fire.

Mr. JOHN GING (Director, UNRWA, Gaza): The Palestinians have to stop firing the rockets. The Israelis have to stop with their disproportionate and inappropriate use of force in densely populated, urban areas. And I also call on international political actors to get effective. We need more than words. We need effective action.

KELEMEN: U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon pressed that case in the chambers of the Security Council, as did Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, foreign ministers from the Arab world and from Europe. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, whose country has taken the lead in the search for a cease-fire, urged the council to back Egyptian proposals to host talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and to secure and open Gaza's borders. Kouchner spoke through an interpreter.

Mr. BERNARD KOUCHNER (Foreign Minister, France): (Through Translator) A halt to violence is the immediate priority. My country condemned the Israeli ground offensive against Gaza and the launching of rockets. And we call for an immediate, humanitarian truce.

KELEMEN: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she understands the urgency of this crisis, and pointed out that Israeli has agreed to set up humanitarian corridors to help get relief supplies to Palestinians in Gaza. And though she said she supports Egypt's mediation efforts, she said any truce must deal with what she calls the root of the problem: Hamas's ability to fire rockets into Israel.

Ms. CONDOLEEZZA RICE (Secretary of State, United States): We need very much to find a solution to this problem in the short term. But it really must be a solution this time that does not allow Hamas to use Gaza as a launching pad against Israeli cities. It has to be a solution that does not allow the rearmament of Hamas.

KELEMEN: Robert Malley of the International Crisis Group says there are some serious flaws to this approach.

Mr. ROBERT MALLEY (Director, International Crisis Group): All that makes perfect sense, except for the fact that in the meantime, there's a heavy human toll, there's a political toll. I mean, let's not forget that every day that goes by, President Abbas and the moderates, who we want to support, are looking increasingly irrelevant, feckless and to some Palestinians, complicit as well.

KELEMEN: Malley says the U.S. should follow the example of others, pushing for a quick end to the fighting first, and then putting in place the longer-term solutions. He co-authored a report that offers some suggestions, including real efforts by Egypt and others to end arms smuggling into Gaza, and putting European monitors back at Israel's border crossings with Gaza to reopen trade.

Mr. MALLEY: There seems to be a pretty broad consensus that those are the pillars of any final cease-fire. The differences are in the timing. How much more should Hamas's military potential be pummeled before we get there? Differences, too, into what kind of role Hamas will play not only in getting to the cease-fire, but once the cease-fire is in place.

KELEMEN: Malley says the diplomacy on Gaza is starting to look a lot like the situation in 2006, when the U.S. refused to call for an immediate truce between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon. He says the U.S. lost credibility in the Arab world for that, and the conflict dragged on for more than a month. While others seemed to have learned their lessons and are trying to act quickly this time, Malley says the U.S. seems to be once again standing in the way of a quick resolution to another Middle East conflict. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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