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Middle East

Sarkozy to visit region as Gaza raid deaths reach 400

Article published on the 2009-01-01 Latest update 2009-01-01 12:40 TU

A wounded Palestinian is carried to al-Shifa hospital after an Israeli air strike(Photo: Reuters)

A wounded Palestinian is carried to al-Shifa hospital after an Israeli air strike
(Photo: Reuters)

As France gives up the presidency of the European Union, French President Nicolas Sarkozy has announced that he will visit the Middle East next Monday and Tuesday. He will meet Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni in Paris today, the day after Israel rejected calls fora truce in its assault on the Gaza Strip.

On Monday Sarkozy will travel to Egypt, where he will meet President Hosni Mubarak, then to the West Bank, to see Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas, and finally dine with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

On Tuesday he will visit Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

In a New Year's message, the President said it was France's duty to "seek a path towards peace" in the region.

Israel on Wednesday rejected calls for a truce, saying that any ceasefire must guarantee an end to rocket attacks from Gaza. Livni said that Hamas, which controls the area, would use the truce to gain "a better position for the next attack".

More than 250 rockets have been fired into Israel since the attacks began on Saturday. Four Israelis have been killed.

Israeli officials today expressed "astonishment" at the manner in which French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner proposed a 48-hour humanitarian truce. Kouchner reportedly made direct contact with Defence Minister Ehud Barak, bypassing Olmert and Livni.

Israel rejected that proposal on the grounds that it would allow convoys carrying aid into the area.

Libya on Wednesday presented an Arab League resolution to the UN Security Council calling for an immediate ceasefire and labelling the offensive an "excessive, disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force".

The US and Britain have labelled the motion biased because it does not mention Palestinian rocket attacks.

Ismail Haniya, the head of the Hamas authority in Gaza, gave a televised speech on Wednesday. He said that Hamas might consider reviving its ceasefire if Israle lifts its blockade of Gaza.

"If the aggression is halted unconditionally and the blockade is lifted and the passages are opened, we then can discuss all issues in a positive manner," he said.

With the Czech Republic taking over the EU presidency, Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg will lead an EU delegation to Israel next week.