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A rush to broker peace in Gaza

Absent more forceful US role, others make frantic bid to halt fighting.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / January 6, 2009



Washington

With the Bush administration signaling a green light to Israeli military action in Gaza and President-elect Obama holding to a "one president at a time" silence, other powers are vying to fill the vacuum left by the absence of more forceful American diplomacy.

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Those powers range from European and Arab leaders, who hope to broker a cease-fire and stave off a full-scale humanitarian crisis, to Iran, which aims to stoke anti-Israel and anti-US sentiments that Israel's actions in Gaza have ignited in the region.

Prospects for any progress toward an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord – and for an Israeli-Arab rapprochement – may hang in the balance. That explains both the frantic efforts at the United Nations to halt the fighting and Iran's preference to see the crisis deepen.

Unabated military action in coming days – or even weeks, Israeli officials say – is also likely to present Mr. Obama with a much grimmer situation in the Middle East than anticipated when he takes office. Whether he enters the Oval Office in two weeks to a raging crisis or to a renewed cease-fire will go a long way to determining how the new president is able to pursue his stated priority of addressing America's image in the Islamic world.

"The Obama people are hoping this crisis runs its course before they take the wheel, because if it's still going on they will have to deal with it front and center on the foreign-policy plate," says Wayne White, an adjunct scholar at the Middle East Institute in Washington and a former official with the State Department Policy Planning staff. "They had hoped to get off on a different foot in the Middle East than to be handed this mess."

Who's pressing for a cease-fire?

Diplomatic efforts to reach a cease-fire continued in the region and at the United Nations Monday. Leaders of the Arab League were set to meet UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon Monday afternoon to press their demands for a cease-fire.

Several European leaders including French President Nicolas Sarkozy were in the Middle East also promoting an immediate cease-fire.

Israel, however, shows no signs of bowing to international pressure to end its 10-day offensive against Hamas and its military structure.

At a press conference Monday, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni dismissed the European idea to place international observers in Gaza to monitor Hamas military activity and to stop the rocket fire into Israel that set off the Israeli offensive. Saying, "I don't see how this can help," she called instead for an international mission on Gaza's border with Egypt to close down tunnels used for smuggling arms into Gaza and to prevent new ones from being dug.

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