Arab ministers back Egypt truce efforts for Gaza
CAIRO (Reuters) - Arab ministers gave their backing on Saturday to Egyptian efforts to secure a truce that would end Israel's offensive on Gaza, they said in a statement after an Arab League meeting in Cairo.
Arab foreign ministers also agreed to form a delegation to travel to the Palestinian enclave in a show of support. League chief Nabil Elaraby told reporters he would lead the team and that the trip was expected to take place in "one or two days".
Ministers meeting at the Cairo-based headquarters had said Arab states had to take practical steps to support Palestinians in Gaza.
Israel launched a massive air campaign on Wednesday with the declared goal of deterring Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group that runs the Gaza Strip, from launching rockets that have plagued its southern communities for years.
In the statement, ministers condemned what they called Israeli "aggression" and also expressed "complete discontent" at the U.N. Security Council's failure to bring about a ceasefire.
Ministers said they "decided to support the efforts exerted by Egypt in coordination with the Palestinian state to stop the Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip and ... reach a truce that would result in an immediate end to all military actions".
Egypt had brokered an informal truce in October, which has since collapsed. It now says it is seeking a new deal, with President Mohamed Mursi saying on Saturday there were "some indications" that a ceasefire could be reached soon but he had no firm guarantees.
Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the League building, some chanting for a "bombardment of Tel Aviv".
At the start of the Arab meeting, several ministers called for active steps and voiced frustration at the failure of Arab declarations or initiatives to make any difference in the past.
"Today we will issue a statement. What will it mean? It won't mean anything," said Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani. "We need to do something practical for those suffering, at least from a humanitarian point of view."
"I am not talking about war or military action ... I am talking about offering support to our brothers in Palestine," Sheikh Hamad added. Qatar's emir pledged $400 million to help develop Gaza during a visit there in October.
On Saturday, Israeli aircraft bombed Hamas government buildings in the Palestinian territory, after Israel's cabinet authorised the mobilization of up to 75,000 reservists, preparing for a possible ground invasion.
The Arab delegation visit to Gaza will follow trips by Tunisian Foreign Minister Rafik Abdesslem, who went on Saturday, and Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Kandil, who traveled on Friday, using his trip to condemn Israeli actions while pledging to work for a truce.
Mursi held talks with Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan on the Gaza crisis and a range of issues.
Erdogan has been an outspoken critic of Israel, while the Qatari emir's visit to Gaza in October broke the isolation of the Palestinian group. Both arrived in Egypt earlier in the day.
Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal was also in Cairo on Saturday to discuss the Gaza crisis, a presidential source said.
A presidential source had said there would be four-way talks between Mursi, the Qatari emir, the Turkish prime minister and Meshaal. But the source later said a four-way meeting did not take place, without giving a reason.
Meshaal held talks on Saturday with Egyptian security officials on prospects for a truce, an Egyptian official told Reuters.
Erdogan, whose trip was planned before the Gaza violence surged, praised Egypt's decision to withdraw its ambassador from Tel Aviv in response to Israel's attacks. Turkey withdrew its envoy in 2010 over a separate incident.