Al-Jazeera English
January 5, 2009 - 1:00am

Palestinian group Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, has announced it will send a delegation to Egypt for ceasefire negotiations as diplomatic efforts to end the fighting in Gaza intensified.

Ayman Taha, a Hamas official told the Reuters news agency on Monday that a group would head to Cairo "answering an Egyptian invitation to hold discussions".

Taha did not say whether the delegation would include Hamas members from Gaza or exiled leaders.

The talks are set to coincide with the arrival of Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, in the region, to push for a European-backed ceasefire.

While blaming Hamas for provoking Israeli military action by firing rockets into southern Israel, Sarkozy also condemned Israel's deployment of ground troops into the territory.

Osama Hamdan, the Hamas representative in Lebanon, told Al Jazeera that the core issue that will be discussed in Cairo will be "ending the aggression and lifting the blockade imposed on Gaza for three years now".

Tony Blair, the Middle East envoy for the Quartet comprising the UN, the EU, Russia and the US, met Ehud Barak, the Israeli defence minister, on Sunday in an effort to broker a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas

"It's a very, very interesting, demanding, tough first 24 hours right now, Barak told reporters, referring to the ongoing ground offensive in Gaza.

"We are committed to follow through to continue as long as needed to achieve our objectives."

The UN Security Council is also set to meet again on Monday to discuss the crisis following an emergency session on Sunday that failed to produce a resolution or even a statement calling for a halt to the fighting.

Calls for a ceasefire from the United States, Israel's main backer, other foreign governments and the United Nations has failed to gain traction over disagreements about who should stop shooting first.

EU initiative

As a ground offensive gathers pace, the Israeli military operation that also includes aerial and naval bombardment of the strip has killed at least 509 Palestinians and injured more than 2,450.

Four Israelis have been killed by Palestinian rocket attacks.

The European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union pledged an additional $4.2m of emergency aid for Gaza and called on Israel to respect international law.

A high-level EU delegation also arrived in Egypt on Sunday in a diplomatic push for a ceasefire.

The delegation, headed by Karel Schwarzenberg, the Czech foreign minister, whose country currently hold the EU presidency, held talks with Ahmed Aboul Gheit, the Egyptian foreign minister in Cairo.

The group also includes Javier Solana, the EU foreign policy chief, and the foreign ministers of France and Sweden.

The EU said in a statement that food, emergency shelter items and medical supplies were urgently needed by Palestinians in Gaza and that the aid would be "deployed as rapidly as possible".

Adnan Abu Odeh, a former diplomatic advisor to King Abdullah of Jordan told Al Jazeera that the rush of diplomatic activity in the region would be useful.

"There are a number of positions that are being put together, as rudiments of a solution they are crystallising," Abu Odeh said.

Qatari call

The Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, called on Arab leaders to be more proactive and hold an emergency Arab summit to try to end Israel's offensive.

He also told Israel that its invasion of Gaza was counterproductive and would perpetuate animosity between Arabs and Jews for generations.

"To Israel's leaders, I say: killing the innocent civilians and the military arrogance will not bring security to you, or to us. It will lead to catastrophic results.

"Those who planned this war, did they ever think of the angry Arab and Palestinian generations who are growing up in the middle of such incidents?

"Some of my Arab brothers decided to go to the [UN] Security Council instead of holding an Arab summit. However, once again, we see that that the international community is not willing to listen to us and will not unless we assert our common will.

"Before asking the international community to listen to us, we should start by listening to the voices of our own Arab people. Thus, we reiterate our call to hold an emergency Arab summit. I leave this option up to the leaders of the Arab world."

Russia on Sunday said it was "extremely concerned" by Israel's land operation in Gaza and said it was sending a special envoy to the region to help bring about a ceasefire by both sides.

Protests continue

Meanwhile, international protests against the Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip continued.

Thousands of university students in Jordan marched to the country's
parliament on Sunday, calling for the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador, as Nader Dahabi, the country's prime minister told legislators that his government was weighing its relations with Israel.

There were also protests in Turkey, where organisers claimed 700,000 people had turned out for an anti-Israeli demonstration.

Protesters called on Turkey to re-evaluate ties with the Jewish state if it does not halt its offensive.

Thousands of demonstrators in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, denounced Israel as a "terrorist" force and called on the government to send troops to fight Israeli forces.

"Indonesia's military must go to war against Israel, not just as peacekeepers. We ask the government to send troops there, not just medicine," Farid Wadjdi, the local head of the Hizbut Tahrir movement, was quoted as saying by news website Detikcom.


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