Gaza fighting risks 'escalation,' warns Quartet



BRUSSELS, Roddy Thomson- World powers warned Saturday there is a "risk of escalation" as three days of deadly fighting over Gaza plunged relations between Israel and Egypt to a new low.
The European Union, Russia, the United States and the United Nations urged the region's key players to hit the brakes -- but shortly afterwards, an Israeli man died under rocket fire from Gaza claimed by radical militants Israel blames for eight deaths on Thursday.



The latest night attack came after the Jewish state's air force flew bombing raids over the Gazan coastal enclave, and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council.
The Arab League is already holding emergency talks on Sunday.
Meanwhile, state television said Cairo was recalling its ambassador from Tel Aviv, and the Egyptian government said it "denounces" Israeli attacks in Gaza -- demanding an immediate halt.
"The Quartet remains concerned about the unsustainable situation in Gaza as well as the risk of escalation, and calls for restraint from all sides," read a statement released in Brussels by the EU, Russia, the United States and the UN.
The Palestinians' largest aid donor, the EU is scheduled to send its foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton to Israel and the Palestinian territories next weekend, August 27 and 28.
A diplomat told AFP she wants "to talk about the peace process before the UN General Assembly" meeting in New York on September 13 -- when the Palestinians want to win statehood rights, and are expected to secure a certain plank of privileges.
The aim of Ashton's trip was said to be an appeal for a "proportionate response" on both sides of the fighting.
The Quartet said the rocket and mortar fire on southern Israel that unleashed the chaos represented "gruesome" and "cowardly acts of premeditated terrorism."
But the group went on to say it "also expresses its concern about the security situation in the Sinai Peninsula," and "encourages the Egyptian government to find a lasting resolution to the issue of Sinai security."
Relations between Egypt and Israel -- which fought a series of major wars before a 1979 treaty turned them into strategic allies -- are at their lowest point in years.
Israel says killer Palestinian militants from Gaza slipped into Israeli territory through Egypt, and that five Egyptian police officers died as Israeli troops pursued the attackers.
Amid conflicting military and police reports, Defence Minister Ehud Barak said Israel "regrets" the Egyptian officers' deaths and promised a full investigation.
Egypt has denied that Palestinian militants used its border territory to stage attacks.
After a revolt that ousted president Hosni Mubarak in February, the ruling military and caretaker cabinet have faced increased public calls to rewrite the treaty with Israel.
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Saturday, August 20th 2011
Roddy Thomson
           


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