EU says Gaza ceasefire nearing
The European Union sees a ceasefire in the Middle East on the horizon, an EU official said after the bloc's unsuccessful mission returned late Tuesday to Prague, dpa reported.
"We are suspecting a dawn, but it is not here yet," said Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, whose country chairs the EU until June 30.
The EU mission achieved little. Israel rejected the EU's call for an immediate ceasefire or at least a lull in fighting that would ease distribution of humanitarian aid in the embattled Gaza Strip.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said after meeting EU officials on Tuesday that the Gaza offensive will continue as long as Hamas fires rockets at Israel and smuggles weapons into the territory from Egypt.
The Czech-led delegation, which included Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, EU Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner and the top EU diplomat Javier Solana, met with Egyptian, Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian leaders in the fruitless bid to end fighting.
"It was perfectly clear that during our visit we can't achieve an immediate ceasefire," Schwarzenberg said.
The mission, whose members included the French and Swedish foreign ministers, Bernard Kouchner and Carl Bildt, was eclipsed by French President Nicolas Sarkozy's separate trip to the region.
Solana joined Sarkozy's delegation on Tuesday for talks in Syria and Egypt, Schwarzenberg said. He is also to travel with the French president to Israel.
"I hope for a successful result," Schwarzenberg said.
In a minor achievement, the EU managed to persuade Israel to allow one European Commission official to coordinate humanitarian aid for Gaza, EU Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said.