Iran president: 'Not feasible' for Israel to live
CAIRO, Egypt – A top Israeli envoy delivered his country's stance on a cease-fire agreement in Gaza to Egyptian mediators trying to seal a truce on Thursday. The Iranian president said the fighting showed Israel's continued existence in the region is "not feasible."
The development came as the U.N. secretary-general pressed Israel and Gulf leaders gathered in Saudi Arabia to discuss the conflict.
The diplomatic push gained momentum despite competing agendas among Arab and Islamic governments, which are openly disagreeing about how to resolve — or even discuss — the conflict between Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers.
Meanwhile, Israeli troops pushed deeper into densely populated Gaza City on the 20th day of the offensive to rout out Hamas militants. Israeli tanks shelled the crowded downtown, sending terrified residents fleeing for cover.
Witnesses and U.N. officials said Israeli shells struck the United Nations headquarters building that serves as a shelter for hundreds of people, setting it ablaze.
The Israeli push ratcheted up pressure on Hamas to accept a proposed cease-fire. It also came as U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon was in Israel trying to promote a cease-fire.
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said Israel wants a total end to Hamas' rocket launches into Israel and an arms embargo on Gaza's militant rulers.
"There is momentum in these discussions," Regev told AP Television News. "We are hopeful that a deal will be based on a total cessation of Hamas fire into Israel and an arms embargo to prevent Hamas from rearming is close and attainable."
The Israeli envoy, Amos Gilad, who spent four hours in Egypt before returning home, was discussing the "parameters of the end game" with the Egyptian mediators, Regev said. Gilad did not meet Hamas envoys who are also in town.
Gaza-based Hamas official Ghazi Hamad said the deeper incursion reflected pressure on his group.
"I think Israel is seeking in the last moments to escalate the military operation to pressure the parties," Hamad told The Associated Press. "I don't think this will change the issues on the table."
The Egyptian proposal calls for a 10-day cease-fire, but Israeli troops would remain in place in Gaza until a security arrangement is negotiated for border crossings to ensure weapons cannot be brought in. Once that is done, Israeli troops would withdraw and the borders would be opened.
That would mean Hamas dropping its demand that an Israeli withdrawal and an opening of borders be simultaneous with a cease-fire. It was still unclear whether the militant group had fully signed on to that idea.
Hamad said his group has offered amendments to Egypt's original peace proposal, and he expected the Egyptians will convey them to the Israelis. "Consultations are continuing," he said.
After Gilad's departure, Salah Bardawil, a Hamas negotiator in Cairo, said his group now demands Israeli troops withdraw within five days of the start of a cease-fire and seeks Turkish or European monitors to ensure that border crossings remain open.
Hamas' deputy chief, Moussa Abou Marzouk, who is based in Damascus, took a hard line, telling The Associated Press that the group would not abandon its demand that Israel withdraw its troops from Gaza. "This is our main demand, along with the reopening of the border crossings," he said.
In Tehran, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called on Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah to speak out over "the massacre of your children in Gaza," the official Iranian news agency reported.
Saudi Arabia is overwhelmingly Sunni, as are the Palestinians, while Iran is a top backer of Hamas.
Ahmadinejad said a firm Saudi stand would dash hopes of those who want to divide Islamic countries.
At a news conference, Ahmadinejad said the fighting in Gaza has been "a great lesson for all," saying it shows "the absolute defeat and desperation of this (Israeli) regime."
He says that "even for the supporters of the occupying regime and its leaders, it has become clear that the continuation of the Zionist regime's life in the region is not feasible."
In an interview Wednesday, Ahmadinejad urged Arab states to pressure Israel's Western backers to stop the fighting and to cut all ties with Israel, and also dismissed allegations Iran is urging Hamas to reject Egyptian truce efforts.
Israel says it launched the offensive Dec. 27 to stop rocket fire against southern Israeli towns by Hamas, which has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007. Gaza medical officials say 1,100 Palestinians have been killed since the offensive started.
Meanwhile, an emergency summit of the six Gulf Cooperation Council countries, called by Saudi Arabia to discuss Gaza, is to take place in Riyadh later Thursday.
But a separate summit by Arab League heads of state called by Qatar for Friday in Doha was in doubt as Qatar couldn't get a two-thirds majority of the organization to attend.
Egypt and Saudi Arabia are against the Doha summit, believing it could scuttle Egyptian efforts to broker a truce between Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers.
In Europe, Mideast envoy Tony Blair joined on Thursday three top European diplomats — foreign ministers Bernard Kouchner of France, Jonas Gahr Stoere of Norway and the EU's Benita Ferrero-Waldner — at a meeting in Paris to discuss the conflict.
Associated Press Writers Patrick Quinn in Jerusalem and Nasser Karimi in Tehran contributed to this report.