U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell says it is critically important to extend and consolidate a cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip.
Mitchell told reporters in Israel Wednesday that an end to smuggling from Egypt into Gaza and the reopening of border crossings are necessary for a longer-term truce. He spoke after meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Earlier today, Mitchell met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo. The U.S. envoy said Washington supports Egypt's efforts to mediate a truce between Israel and Hamas.
Mitchell is set to visit the West Bank for talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday. He does not plan to meet with Hamas.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said Tuesday he is optimistic that a sustainable truce in Gaza can be reached in the first week of February.
U.S. envoy Mitchell says his visit to the region is a clear signal that the new Obama administration is committed to pursuing Middle East peace and stability.
Mitchell began his regional tour in Cairo Tuesday, meeting with Aboul Gheit, Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana.
The U.S. State Department said Mitchell's talks in Egypt were "productive." It said his mission is to hear from U.S. allies about ways to reach a sustainable cease-fire between Israel and Hamas and ways to achieve a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In a separate diplomatic development Wednesday, the French foreign ministry says it has summoned Israel's ambassador in protest after Israeli troops fired two warning shots at a European diplomatic convoy Tuesday.
A French foreign ministry spokesman (Eric Chevallier) said Israeli troops also held the diplomats for six hours at the Erez border crossing as the group tried to return to Jerusalem from the Gaza Strip. U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell says it is critically important to extend and consolidate a cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip.