European and Arab leaders racing to consolidate a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas pressed on Sunday for an end to weapons smuggling into Gaza and for the opening of the territory to desperately needed humanitarian aid.
A summit meeting in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheik concluded that the next steps will include a humanitarian summit organised by Egypt in the coming days and the search for a way to open Gaza’s sealed border crossings to allow in humanitarian aid.
A unilateral Israeli ceasefire began before dawn on Sunday. Hamas also announced it would halt fighting from its side for one week while demanding that Israeli troops leave the territory.
The crucial question left unresolved was how to stop weapons smuggling across the Egyptian border to Gaza’s Hamas rulers.
France,Britain,Germany and the United States have all offered help in stopping the flow of weapons,but Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has firmly rejected any deployment of international monitoring forces on its side of the Gaza border.
“We have pledged to help Israel and Egypt with all the technical,military,naval and diplomatic ways to help end the smuggling of weapons into Gaza,” French President Nicolas Sarkozy said at a news conference after the summit.
Preventing Hamas from rearming is a key demand of Israel in any lasting deal. It launched its offensive on December 27 with the argument that Hamas had used a six-month truce earlier in the year to restock its arsenal. That truce unravelled as Hamas intensified its rocket fire into southern Israel.
While,acknowledging the difficult task ahead,Sarkozy said now was the time to speed efforts toward the ultimate goal of West Asia peacemaking: the creation of a Palestinian state.
“In our minds,this is the beginning of our journey,” he said. “We should continue and we should accelerate our efforts in order to achieve a settlement based on the creation of two states,a Palestinian state living side-by-side with an Israeli state that has the right to its security.”