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Israel rejects 48-hour truce proposal

Article published on the 2008-12-31 Latest update 2008-12-31 15:08 TU

Relatives of Tawfiq Qanan, who was killed in an Israeli air strike, mourn during his funeral in Gaza (Photo: Reuters)

Relatives of Tawfiq Qanan, who was killed in an Israeli air strike, mourn during his funeral in Gaza
(Photo: Reuters)

Israel has said no to a proposal for a 48-hour ceasefire in its air offensive on the Gaza Strip. Officials say that Israel will only consider a permanent truce with the Islamic Hamas group which controls the territory. Hamas has fired 250 rockets into Israel since the raids began and says it will continue as long as the offensive continues.

"In order for this truce to be realistic, we need guarantees and conditions," said Foreign Ministry spokesperson Yigal Palmor. "Hamas must stop its rocket fire and acquiring arms. These are indispensable conditions if a permanent truce is to be seriously considered."

EU foreign ministers meeting in Paris on Tuesday night backed a French call for an immediate ceasefire by both sides. The Middle East Quartet of the EU, Russia, the US and the UN called for "an immediate ceasefire that would be fully respected".

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told RTL radio that he hoped Israel would not launch a ground offensive because it would cause "many more deaths".

Israel carried out more than 35 strikes overnight. Officials say that government offices, weapons stores and smugglers' tunnels were targeted.

Medical sources in Gaza put the death toll at at least 390, with 1,900 wounded. At least 42 of these are children, they say.

The UN refugees agency, UNRWA, says that at least 25 per cent of those killed have been civilians.

Armed groups in Gaza have fired more than 250 rockets into Israel since the raids began, killing three civilians and one soldier and wounding several dozen people. Hamas has threatened to carry out suicide attacks for the first time since January 2005.

As the Arab League meets in Cairo, Egypt has called off New Year's Eve celebrations "in solidarity with the painful events in the Palestinian territories and the massacres which Gazans are faced with"

Veteran Middle East reporter and author Robert Fisk believes that the latest conflict will harden already-existing hostilities in the region.

"This is merely going to reconfirm in the minds of those people who believe there can be no peace that they’re right," he told RFI.

Comment: Reporter and author Robert Fisk

31/12/2008 by Brent Gregston

Protests continue around the world, with several thousand people demonstrating in Washington on Tuesday.