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International community calls for ceasefire in Gaza
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The UN Security Council convened a meeting on Wednesday to discuss the ongoing conflict in Gaza, with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and representatives of various countries calling for an immediate and permanent ceasefire between Israelis and Palestinians.

"There must be an immediate ceasefire that is fully respected by all parties," Ban said at the meeting.

"This must create new conditions on the ground that ensure at last that crossings into Gaza will be reopened; that rocket attacks and weapons smuggling will end; and that we will pursue political dialogue, and only political dialogue, to reunite Gaza with the West Bank; and that the root cause of this suffering, the absence of Israeli-Palestinian peace, is ended.

"Even as this crisis rages, let us never forget the underlying issue: there must be an end to occupation, an end to conflict, and the creation of a Palestinian State," he said. "Let us not lose sight of our goal -- two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security, and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the region.

"The conflict must end, and it must end once and for all," Ban said.

Wednesday's open Council meeting was convened after its members met behind closed doors to discuss the current Gaza conflict. The president of the Security Council for December, Croatia's UN Ambassador Neven Jurica, called the meeting at the request of Egyptian UN Ambassador Maged Abdleza.

The Egyptian ambassador, in his letter to the Council president, said the Arab countries want the Security Council "to adopt an enforceable and binding resolution that would ensure an immediate ceasefire, cessation of the Israeli military aggression, lifting of the blockade, and the provision of international protection to the Palestinian people."

The meeting comes as diplomatic efforts are under way to stop the Gaza conflict, and Israel's rejection of a 48-hour ceasefire.

Taking the floor at the meeting, Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian permanent observer to the United Nations, asked the Security Council to adopt "a binding resolution" that would ensure an end to the Israeli military assaults on Gaza.

Zhang Yesui, the Chinese permanent representative to the United Nations, urged Israel to stop military actions while calling on Hamas to stop firing rockets into southern Israel.

French UN Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert said: "There should be an immediate and permanent ceasefire."

Vitaly Churkin, the Russian UN ambassador, said: "The conflict has already led to a great loss of lives on the Palestinian side." He also called for an immediate ceasefire.

The British UN envoy John Sawers proposed four steps -- an immediate and permanent ceasefire, urgent actions to restore humanitarian supplies to the people in need, opening of the crossing into the Gaza Strip, and collective efforts by the international community to ensure peace in the Middle East.

The U.S. ambassador to the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad, also supported a sustainable ceasefire to be implemented by all parties.

"There will be no ceasefire with the smuggling of arms into Gaza," he said.

(Xinhua News Agency January 2, 2009)

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