“The loss of civilian life in Gaza and Israel is a source of deep concern for me”, said Barack Obama, the US president-elect (photo, from cbsnews.com).
He repeated that until he became president on January 20, only George W. Bush could speak on US foreign policy.
“After January 20 I’m going to have plenty to say about the issue, and I am not backing away at all from what I said during the campaign, that starting at the beginning of our administration, we are going to be engaged effectively and consistently in trying to resolve the conflict in the Middle East”, he said.
In the mean time, on Tuesday Egypt has said it was proposing an immediate ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza, to be followed by talks on long-term arrangements including an end to the blockade of Gaza.
The proposal has been presented by Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, in a brief statement after talks with Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on Tuesday.
The proposal made no mention of many of the elements which diplomats said were under discussion, such as an international force to prevent Hamas receiving weapons.
And Mr Mubarak did not say what role Hamas would play in the talks he is proposing. Israel and the Europeans who have been active diplomatically do not talk to the group.
Death roll rising
With at least 75 killed on Tuesday, including at least 40 people sheltering in a UN school, the Palestinian death roll in the Israeli offensive keeps on rising sharply.
In more than a week since Israel began its assault on Gaza, at least 640 Palestinians have been killed.
Earlier on Tuesday, the Bush administration had called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza but again insisted that it be durable.
Even though Dana Perino, a White House spokeswoman, said the US backed Israel’s Gaza offensive, she urged it to be “very cautious when it comes to civilian casualties”.
“We want it to be kept to a minimum”, she said on Tuesday.
When asked how quickly the US wants to see a ceasefire in place, she said, “We would like it as soon as possible but it has to be something that is durable.”
Ms Perino said the call for an immediate ceasefire was not a shift in the US position, which has backed Israel’s decision to attack Gaza in what it says is a move to stop rocketfire by Palestinian fighters targeting southern Israel.
In attempt to persuade the world body to take action over the crisis in Gaza, Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, is set to address the UN Security Council in New York.
The US state department said that Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, would attend the Security Council meeting and hold talks with Mr Abbas and Arab foreign ministers.
France’s UN Ambassador said that Bernard Kouchner, the French foreign minister whose country holds the rotating presidency of the 15-member body, was to chair Tuesday’s meeting.
On Monday, UN sources said the proposed new resolution would have three main points: a demand for an immediate ceasefire, the formation of some sort of “humanitarian corridor” for much-needed aid and a form of “monitoring mechanism” for the ceasefire.
On Monday, Palestinian, Egyptian and other ministers met Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general in attempt to secure UN backing for a ceasefire in Gaza.
Last week, the US blocked a Libyan-backed proposal for the UN to call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza last weekend.