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Palestinian Envoy Seeks Verifiable Gaza Cease-Fire

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is All Things Considered from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel. As Israel's offensive continues in the Gaza Strip, the search goes on for a diplomatic solution. In a moment, we're going to hear the positions of two diplomats, an Israeli and a Palestinian. A hospital official in Gaza said at least nine Palestinians were killed today by Israeli bombs, five of them children, and dozens of rockets were sent crashing into Israeli towns by Hamas today. No one was killed. Today at the White House, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said any agreement must include a commitment from Hamas.

(Soundbite of press conference, January 2, 2009)

Secretary CONDOLEEZZA RICE (U.S. Department of State, George W. Bush Administration): We are working toward a cease-fire that would not allow a re-establishment of the status quo ante, where Hamas can continue to launch rockets out of Gaza. It is obvious that that cease-fire should take place as soon as possible, but we need a cease-fire that is durable and sustainable.

SIEGEL: Riyad Mansour is the Palestinian permanent observer to the United Nations. He's with the Palestinian Authority led by President Mahmoud Abbas. It does not control Gaza. Mansour described a solution from his perspective.

Ambassador RIYAD MANSOUR (Palestinian Permanent Observer, United Nations): This aggression against our people in Gaza for seven days needs to be stopped immediately. We need to allow for opening the crossings to address the humanitarian and the economic situation. We need to evacuate the hundreds and maybe thousands of wounded people. And we need to have a sustainable cease-fire, and I believe we can do that by having an international force that will guarantee that the cease-fire would be sustainable.

SIEGEL: That sustainable, durable cease-fire that you speak of would include both Israel halting its attack, but you're saying also Hamas halting all rocket attacks coming out of Gaza.

Amb. MANSOUR: We need that all parties to stop firing at each other.

SIEGEL: When you speak of an international force, is that a way of saying that control of the crossings, for example, into and out of Gaza should pass from Hamas to another force?

Amb. MANSOUR: Well, the control of the crossing is ruled by international agreement. And according to that agreement, there will be a presence on the Palestinian side of the presidential guards of the president, Mahmoud Abbas, and in the Rafah crossing will be a European presence, as well as the Egyptians. So, there is a consensus in the international community for the implementation of that agreement, meaning that things to go back to the situation that existed on early 2006.

SIEGEL: But which is a very - a delicate way of saying, though, one result of all this should be Hamas out of effective power in Gaza.

Amb. MANSOUR: Well, we are talking about the crossings, and we are talking about the implementation of that agreement.

SIEGEL: Mm-hmm.

Amb. MANSOUR: We are not suggesting that for any political party not to exist in our society. But what we are saying, there is only one legitimate authority, under the leadership of President Abbas, and that legitimate authority should represent the Palestinian people everywhere, including in the political process.

SIEGEL: In calling for a cease-fire, in some respects, the Palestinian Authority is calling for a return to the status quo ante, to what was going on before this most recent fighting. On the other hand, there was much about the status quo before last week that was inherently unstable, dangerous and doing no one much good. Is it sufficient, really, to go back to where things were before the Israeli air strikes, or do you have to alter that relationship between the West Bank, Gaza and Israel to have anything remotely, even for the short term, stable?

Amb. MANSOUR: I think that we have to go beyond the situation that existed before the beginning of this aggression. We need to have guarantees, and I think the guarantees would be through the presence of an international peace force, where it will give the Palestinian people the sense of they are being protected, and it would also create deterrent from firing across the borders between Gaza and Israel from anyone.

SIEGEL: Do you think that Hamas would accept either an international presence or the return of guards accountable to President Abbas at the crossings?

Amb. MANSOUR: The interest of the Palestinian people would require an agreement that would contain these elements. Whoever is going to oppose this agreement, from the Israeli side or the Palestinian side, would be the party that is not interested in having a, you know, a solution to this situation, and we have to find solutions in order that the Palestinian people in Gaza to live as normal life as possible while we are engaging the Israeli side to put an end to occupation, to allow for the birth of the independent, sovereign, contiguous Palestinian state, with East Jerusalem as its capital, to live in peace and security next to our neighbor, Israel.

SIEGEL: Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian permanent observer to the United Nations. Ambassador Mansour, thank you very much for talking with us.

Amb. MANSOUR: You're very welcome. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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