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Brown: Gaza ceasefire opens 'path to peace'

Gordon Brown
Gordon Brown

Gordon Brown said today that he believed there was now a "clear path" to peace in the Middle East following the end of the 22-day conflict in Gaza.

The Prime Minister, in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el Sheikh for an international summit on the Gaza crisis, said that the cessation of hostilities must be followed by steps to find a permanent settlement.

"Three weeks of tragedy must be followed by immediate action to secure a permanent peace settlement," he told a joint press conference chaired by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

"I believe that I can see a clear path to peace and I believe that the most courageous leaders in this region can also see a path to peace.

"I believe that with President Obama coming into power on Tuesday, it is our duty ... to build on what has been built by President Mubarak and to move quickly towards a permanent peace settlement that will recognise a secure Israel and a viable Palestine."

Earlier, as he arrived in Egypt, Mr Brown announced an additional £20 million of British humanitarian aid for Gaza.

His announcement came as Hamas announced its own one-week ceasefire following the unilateral declaration by Israel that it was ending hostilities.

In an apparent criticism of the scale of the Israeli response to Hamas rocket attacks, Mr Brown said "too many" innocent people had died in the 22-day assault on Gaza.

He told reporters on his flight to Sharm el-Sheikh: "We have yet to discover the full scale of the appalling suffering.

"But what is already clear is that too many innocent civilians, including hundreds of children, have been killed during the military offensive."

Mr Brown said the violence in Gaza must not halt the search for a path to peace, but should spur the international community on in its efforts to establish a sustainable two-state solution.

"This conflict has once again demonstrated the urgent need to forge a longer term settlement which gives security to both Israelis and Palestinians," he said.

Today's summit is being co-chaired by Mr Mubarak, who has sought to broker an end to fighting, and Mr Sarkozy.

Also attending are United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and senior politicians from Germany, Italy, Spain, Turkey and Jordan.

Absent was top-rank representation from the US, where attention is focused on Tuesday's inauguration of new President Barack Obama.

Mr Brown today said he has discussed the Middle East with the President-elect and believes he will engage with the issue as soon as he comes to office.

"I know from my conversations with President-elect Obama that he shares our desire to replace the violence and distrust of 2008 with new hope for the peoples of the region," he said.

It is hoped that today's discussions will produce progress on the closure of arms-smuggling tunnels into Gaza, as well as the reopening of border points under EU monitoring, probably beginning with the Rafa crossing linking the Palestinian enclave with Egypt.

Details are also expected to be agreed of the Royal Navy assistance offered by Mr Brown yesterday.

This is likely to involve an initial naval assessment of possible sea routes by which arms could be smuggled to Hamas, which holds power in Gaza, followed by patrols by British ships in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.

The £20m of aid announced today trebles to £30m the additional support committed by the Department for International Development since the start of the latest conflict.

As well as food, medicines and shelter, it will be used to airlift injured Palestinian children to hospitals in Jerusalem and the West Bank, to support children traumatised by violence and the death of loved ones and to clear unexploded bombs and shells in Gaza, said Mr Brown.

"Our first priority - a humanitarian imperative - is to get food and medical treatment to those who so urgently need it," he said.

"Britain will today treble to £30m our additional funding for humanitarian relief. We will focus our efforts on support to the UN agencies who are doing such courageous work in the most difficult environments.

"We will help transport those civilians in most need of treatment to hospitals in the West Bank. We will also support children traumatised by the violence, rebuild schools and hospitals and clear unexploded bombs and shells.

"Israel must allow full access to humanitarian workers and to relief supplies. We must also end Gaza's economic isolation by reopening the crossings that link it to the outside world."

For a ceasefire to be "sustainable" it must address the "underlying causes" of the recent violence, including Hamas rocket attacks on southern Israel and Gaza's economic isolation, said Mr Brown.

This was why Britain, France and Germany had come together to offer Israel and Egypt "full support" in tackling arms trafficking to Hamas, to train Palestinian and Egyptian security forces and to support the return of EU border monitors.

Mr Brown later said that the Gaza crisis should be used as a springboard to deliver a lasting settlement in the Middle East.

Speaking alongside other leaders at a press conference following 90 minutes of talks, Mr Brown said they were there because "we believe that three weeks of tragedy must be followed by immediate action to secure a permanent peace settlement, building on the Arab peace initiative, building on what I see as the willingness to discuss peace on all sides and building also on the fact that, amid suffering and grief and tears, I believe I can see a clear path to peace."

Mr Mubarak told the conference that he will host a humanitarian aid conference for Gaza in Egypt within the next few days.

And Mr Sarkozy said: "We have to put back on the table the idea of a peace conference to set the basis for a durable peace."

Mr Brown said that, with President elect Obama arriving in office in two days' time, European states had a "duty" to build on the progress achieved by Mr Mubarak.

Mr Brown told the press conference: "This fragile ceasefire has got to be followed immediately, it is to be sustainable, by the humanitarian access which we have asked for, by troop withdrawals, by an end to arms trafficking, by an opening up of the crossing, by an end to rocket attacks, and hopefully, by the beginning of serious negotiations that will lead to a final settlement.

"A humanitarian tragedy must be met not just by sympathy but by an immediate mobilisation of aid."

Mr Ban said that UN aid assessment teams would be going into Gaza within days to speed the process of getting help to the Palestinian people.



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