Arabs expected to back Egypt truce efforts for Gaza

CAIRO Sat Nov 17, 2012 9:19am EST

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CAIRO Nov 17 (Reuters) - Arab foreign ministers will consider on Saturday a draft statement that calls for the Arab League chief to lead a delegation to Gaza and voices support for Egypt's efforts to negotiate a truce, an Arab diplomatic source said.

The ministerial meeting was called shortly after Israel launched a massive air campaign on Wednesday with the declared aim of deterring Hamas in Gaza from launching cross-border rocket salvoes that have plagued southern Israel for years.

On Saturday, Israeli aircraft bombed Hamas government buildings in the Palestinian territory, after Israel's cabinet authorised the mobilisation of up to 75,000 reservists, preparing for a possible ground invasion.

Egypt had brokered an informal truce in October, which has since collapsed. It now says it is seeking a new deal.

The Arab diplomatic source, who declined to be named, said the draft to be discussed by the ministers expressed the Cairo-based League's support for Egypt's efforts to achieve a "long-term truce" between Israel and Palestinian factions.

As well as condemning Israel for "aggression" and calling for it to stop attacks, the draft called for League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby to lead a delegation of ministers to Gaza "immediately" to show solidarity with Palestinians.

Tunisian Foreign Minister Rafik Abdesslem visited Gaza on Saturday, a day after Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Kandil crossed the border into the Palestinian enclave, condemning Israeli actions and pledging to work for a truce.

The ministerial draft also called for the U.N. Security Council to take the necessary steps to halt the violence and "protect the Palestinian people."

Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi was due to hold four-way talks with the Qatari emir, the prime minister of Turkey and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Cairo on Saturday to discuss the Gaza crisis, a presidential source said.

Turkish premier Tayyip Erdogan has been an outspoken critic of Israel, while Qatar's emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, visited Gaza in October, breaking the isolation of the Palestinian group. Both arrived in Egypt earlier in the day.

Erdogan, whose trip was planned before the Gaza violence surged, was due to speak at Cairo University on Saturday.

Meshaal held talks earlier on Saturday with Egyptian security officials on prospects for a truce, an Egyptian official told Reuters. "Efforts (towards a truce) will continue with all sides of the conflict today (Saturday)," the official added.

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