PALESTINIANS

JANUARY 1 2009 20:38h

Turkey Asks Israel To Halt Fire, End Gaza Blockade

Israeli F-16 fighter jet flies over northern Gaza Strip

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Erdogan met Mubarak after talks with Jordanian, Syrian and Palestinian leaders in a bid to end a six-day Israeli offensive.

Turkey, starting a two-year stint as a member of the U.N. Security Council, urged Israel on Thursday to end its offensive on Gaza and lift its blockade of the coastal strip.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, speaking after talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, said Hamas militants should also stop firing rockets on Israeli towns and halt any other attacks.

"There should be a ceasefire immediately," Erdogan told reporters through an interpreter. "As promised in the (truce) agreement in June 2008, lifting the blockade should happen," he said. Erdogan was referring to an Egyptian-brokered truce, to which Hamas Islamists declared an end last month.

Israel says the blockade, enforced for much of the period since Hamas won Palestinian general elections in 2006, is designed to prevent Hamas from obtaining weapons.

Erdogan met Mubarak after talks with Jordanian, Syrian and Palestinian leaders in a bid to end a six-day Israeli offensive. Israel has killed more than 400 people in air strikes aimed at stopping Gaza militants from firing rockets at it.

"We expressed our intention that we are ready to take the Palestinian issue, with cooperation and coordination with Egypt, to the Security Council," Erdogan said.

"Our call to Israel now is to halt its fire and to the other side (Hamas) to stop firing rockets and other attacks."

He said one of his representatives met with Hamas, but gave no details.

Arab foreign ministers agreed on Wednesday to send a delegation headed by Saudi Arabia to lobby the U.N. Security Council to issue a resolution urging a ceasefire.

The council held an emergency session on Wednesday to discuss a proposed Arab resolution to end the violence but adjourned without a vote. Western delegates described the Arab-drafted resolution as unbalanced.

Turkey has good relations with Israel and had mediated in indirect peace talks between the Jewish state and Syria until Damascus suspended them this week in protest at the Gaza attacks.

Erdogan also said Turkey was ready to mediate between Hamas and Palestinian Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah group. Hamas took control of Gaza after routing Abbas loyalists in June 2007.