Brende heads to Middle East talks

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Norwegian Foreign Minister Børge Brende announced he’d travel to Israel and Palestine on Tuesday as part of efforts to secure a ceasefire and peace plan between warring Israel and Hamas. Israel finally agreed to a ceasefire brokered by Egypt shortly before eight o’clock on Tuesday morning, but Hamas claimed on Monday night they had not heard of the proposal and remained skeptical.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Børge Brende, left, during a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in May this year. Brende went to the Middle East on Tuesday to help broker a lasting ceasefire and peace agreement between Israel and Hamas. PHOTO: Frode Overland Andersen/Utenriksdepartementet

Norwegian Foreign Minister Børge Brende, left, during a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in May this year. Brende went to the Middle East on Tuesday to help broker a lasting ceasefire and peace agreement between Israel and Hamas. PHOTO: Frode Overland Andersen/Utenriksdepartementet

“I’m going to Israel and Palestine to meet the leaders,” Brende told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “There is a new dynamic in the work to create a ceasefire now. It’s to put an end to the horrific bombings and attacks in Gaza, where more than 180 civilian lives have been lost. Norway, as the leader of the so-called donor coordination group to Palestine, has a role to play there.”

He would not be drawn on how the parties could be pressured to cooperate. “This is a question of diplomacy,” Brende said. “We are one of the largest humanitarian contributors, and historically we have good contacts in the region. Now we put pressure on both parties to enter a peace agreement, like in 2012, so we’ll end the terrible and heartbreaking events in Gaza.”

Israel agrees to ceasefire
His comments came just before Israel agreed to a ceasefire proposal, presented by Egypt on Monday and backed by the Arab League and US President Barack Obama. An Israeli army officer announced on military radio that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s security cabinet had agreed to the terms, just minutes before the ceasefire was due to come into effect on Tuesday morning. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had already approved the agreement. The plan called for a complete ceasefire to be in effect by eight o’clock on Tuesday night.

While President Abbas backed the ceasefire plans, Hamas said on Monday night they had not received the draft agreement. Their stance has been that they would not accept a ceasefire without an end to the blockade of the Gaza Strip.

“No one has contacted us about the ceasefire which is now discussed in the media, neither officially or unofficially, but if the content of this proposal is reproduced correctly, we are talking about pure surrender, and we reject that,” Hamas said in a statement, reported news bureau AFP.

“I think this is an initial reaction from Hamas’ side,” Brende told NRK. “Both Israel and Hamas are now under great pressure. The USA pressures Israel, the Arab League pressures the Palestinians, and the Eqyptians are quite clearly against Hamas. I spoke with the Palestinian deputy leader last night, and also Abbas and the Palestinians’ advice to Hamas now is to examine and support the Egyptian proposal.”

Pressure on Hamas
Hamas believed Israel was responsible for the current situation, and must take the first step in laying down weapons. “Therefore it is good that Israel has discussed the ceasefire proposal,” said Brende. “The humanitarian consequences of the attacks on Gaza are unacceptable, they are heartbreaking and must cease. The same for the rockets which are sent in their hundreds from Hamas into Israel.”

About 180 Palestinians in the occupied and blockaded Gaza Strip have been killed during Israeli military action against Hamas over the past week. Hamas has responded by firing almost 1,000 rockets, but no Israelis have been killed in the latest conflict.

Brende also reacted to critics’ claims that Norway had not been harsh enough in its condemnation of the Israeli attacks. “We have been one of the clearest governments in Europe, so the accusation falls on its own weight,” he argued. “We have from the first moment made it abundantly clear that the humanitarian consequences of the attacks on Gaza are unacceptable. At the same time we have stressed that it’s imperative that Hamas stops sending rockets against Israel, that violates international law, because the rockets do not distinguish between civilian and military targets.”

newsinenglish.no/Emily Woodgate