Thursday, January 22, 2009

Obama: We will aggressively seek lasting Middle East peace

Obama on Thursday named former Sen. George Mitchell as his Middle East envoy, saying one of his key tasks would be ensuring that the cease-fire in Gaza lasts.

In a news conference at the U.S. State Department, Obama said the outline for a "durable cease-fire" in Gaza was clear.

"Hamas must end its rocket fire, Israel will complete the withdrawal of its forces from Gaza. The United States and our partners will support a credible anti-smuggling and interdiction regime so that Hamas cannot rearm," the new president said in his first major speech on the region as since he took office on Tuesday.

One of Israel's aims in its recent 3-week offensive against Hamas in Gaza was to halt the smuggling of weapons into the coastal territory.

Obama also reaffirmed his commitment to reaching a peace for the Middle East.

"It will be the policy of my administration to actively and aggressively seek a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians as well as Israel and its Arab neighbors," Obama said, adding that he would send Mitchell to the region soon.

He said that his administration will support a credible system of ending smuggling into Gaza.

The president added that he was deeply concerned by the loss of life among both Israelis and Palestinians, and by the suffering taking place in Gaza. He said his heart "goes out to civilians who are going without food, water or medical care."

He also said Gaza's borders should be opened to allow aid to come in, with appropriate monitoring.