Abbas at UN, Appeals for Mutual Gaza Cease-fire

Rice: U.S. backs Egypt proposal for Gaza cease-fire; Israel envoy: Hamas has no interest in making peace.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in an emotional speech at the United Nations in New York, said Tuesday that he supports a proposal by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak for a cease-fire between Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers.

Speaking to the Security Council, Abbas expressed his "appreciation, indeed support" for the cease-fire planset out by Mubarak and French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Tuesday.

Egypt said Tuesday it was proposing an immediate truce, to be followed by talks on long-term border arrangements and an end to the blockade of Gaza.

Mubarak presented the proposal in a brief statement after talks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy in the Egyptian resort of Sharm al-Sheikh.

Abbas stipulated however, that any cease-fire must include the opening of crossings to end what he called the "unjust siege" of Gaza, and must lead to a resumption of diplomatic negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Abbas blasted Israel for Israel Defense Forces operations in the Gaza Strip the last 11 days, calling Operation Cast Lead "the latest catastrophe" meted out on Palestinians by Israel.

"The Israeli machine of destruction continues to kill, to commit the most heinous of possible crimes despite international unanimity, an unprecedented unanimity in calling for an end of this massacre against innocent civilians that do not deserve such brutality," Abbas said.

Abbas also referred to an IDF strike on a UN run school in Gaza that left over 30 dead as a "massacre", and "new proof of crimes against our people."

United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she too supports Mubarak's proposal for an immediate truce between Israel and the Palestinians in Hamas-ruled Gaza.

"We need urgently to conclude a ceasefire that can endure and that can bring real security," Rice told the Security Council. "In this regard we are pleased by and wish to commend the statement of the president of Egypt and to follow up on that initiative."

Israel signaled Tuesday that it might be open to Egypt's cease-fire proposal that would put an end to an 11-day military assault of the Gaza Strip that has left hundreds of militants and civilians dead.

"I am sure that it will be considered and you will find out whether it was accepted," Israel's UN Ambassador Gabriela Shalev told reporters. "But we take it very, very seriously," she said, while offering no guarantees that Israel would respond positively.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told reporters he expected Israel's response on Wednesday to the truce proposal.

"We harbor hope that it will be a positive one," Kouchner told the Security Council at a special meeting on the Gaza crisis which he chaired as the council's current president.

The proposal made no mention of many of the elements which diplomats said were under discussion, such as an international force to prevent Hamas from receiving weapons.

But a senior official in Sarkozy's office said that Egypt had told Israel the two countries could work together to make the border between Egypt and Gaza watertight.

Sarkozy then told Prime Minister Ehud Olmert: "You have to say that in these conditions you are ready to accept a cease-fire, which means a withdrawal from Gaza, and you have to do it now," added the official, who asked not to be named.

"Olmert told Sarkozy: 'If Mubarak does that then I will immediately announce a cease-fire and a withdrawal in principle, but I want to open talks with Egypt on the Philadelphi corridor (along the border between Egypt and Gaza)'," the official said

Israel's UN Ambassador Gabriela Shalev spoke after Abbas, defending Israel's military action in Gaza, saying the Islamic group Hamas has no interest in making peace and only wants to inflict terror on Israel and tyranny in Gaza, where its forces hide among innocent civilians.

"We have to defend ourselves," she said.

Shalev did not address the ceasefire proposal mentioned by Hamas, but said Israel must insure "the end of terrorism in Gaza, and the end of smuggling in weapons to Gaza."

Shalev also disavowed any claims of moral equivalency between Hamas' acts of terrorism and Israel's military actions, saying that the group deliberately targets civilians and "for Hamas, the enemy is peace."

France, Turkey offer to send monitors to Gaza

France and Turkey said on Tuesday they were willing to contribute to an international monitoring team for a ceasefire in Gaza, with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner telling the United Nations Security Council "International monitoring mechanisms might prove necessary and we are willing to contribute to this."

Kouchner said France was awaiting Israel's to the Egyptian ceasefire proposal "we harbor hope that it will be a positive one."

Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan also said his country, which has been active in trying to end the violence in Gaza, would be prepared to contribute monitors.

"If Turkey is asked to be in such an international monitoring team, we are going to be of course willing to be there," Babacan told reporters before the special UN session.