Egypt summit pledges aid, support to Gaza (Lead)

January 19th, 2009 - 12:12 am ICT by IANS  

Sharm al-Sheikh (Egypt), Jan 18 (DPA) World leaders assembled in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm al-Sheikh Sunday called for a durable peace between Israelis and Palestinians and pledged aid and technical support to shore up the less-than-one-day-old ceasefire.The summit leaders stressed the importance of lifting the blockade of Gaza so that humanitarian aid can enter, ending weapons smuggling, and of creating a unified Palestinian state for the sake of transforming Sunday morning’s ceasefire into a lasting peace.

“We are witnessing today the beginning of the end of this crisis,” Egyptian President Hosny Mubarak, who hosted the summit alongside French President Nicolas Sarkozy, told reporters Sunday.

“We look forward to the end of this sad page from our history,” Mubarak said. “A lasting and a just peace is the only way to achieve the security of the people of this region, and a Palestinian state is the only way to achieve this peace.”

Sarkozy echoed Mubarak’s remarks. “This is the beginning of our journey to establish two states: an Israeli state, and a Palestinian state.”

Sarkozy further called for the border crossings into Gaza to be opened immediately so that urgent humanitarian aid could reach civilians affected by the conflict, and pledged France’s technical assistance to Egypt in stopping weapons smuggling from Egypt into Gaza.

The French president said that France supports Israel’s struggle to defend its rights and the security of its citizens, but stressed that Israel “must promise to leave Gaza if the rocket-fire stops”.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel also offered to provide technical and training assistance to help Egypt stop weapons smuggling from the Sinai peninsula into Gaza, and stressed that “the two-state solution is the sole possibility” for achieving peaceful coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on Hamas to stop firing rockets into Israel and called on Israel to “exercise maximum restraint” in the coming days and weeks.

Ban spoke of the importance of reviving the Middle East peace process and spoke of the 2006 Lebanon war and the 2008 fighting in Gaza as the “repetition of the failure of this peace process”.

He hailed the ceasefire, but warned that “with the division of the Palestinian people, this may only be a stop-gap, there is no guarantee that this will not happen again”.

He said that within 10 days a UN team would present a preliminary assessment of the humanitarian needs in the territory, to be followed by a fuller report two weeks later.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown told reporters, “I can see a clear path to peace,” but said in order for the “fragile ceasefire” between Israel and Hamas to hold, it must be followed by troop withdrawal, the opening of border crossings, an end to rocket attacks, and by “a secure Israel and a secure Palestine”.

Brown pledged Britain’s aid in removing unexploded ordnance, in reconstructing buildings destroyed in the fighting, and in counselling children traumatised by the fighting.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas described the crisis in Gaza as “a humanitarian catastrophe”, and said that “what you saw in the media is much less than what happened in Gaza.”

He said meetings to discuss the reconstruction of Gaza and the reconciliation of Hamas and Fatah were important, but that “what was of the utmost urgency was to stop the war”.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said Italy would help revive the Palestinian economy, and that the first shipment of Italian aid would reach Gaza tomorrow (Monday), and would be followed by others.

Representatives of Israel and Hamas did not attend the summit, but many of the European leaders will reportedly travel north for meetings with Israeli officials Monday.

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