UNITED NATIONS – The Palestinian observer to the United Nations on Monday called for a mutual cease-fire to end an Israeli military offensive in the Gaza Strip that has killed more than 50 Palestinians in the last six days.
Riyad Mansour said the Palestinians were also willing to accept U.N. observers to monitor the cease-fire along the Gaza-Israel border.
He said U.N. ambassadors from Arab states held an emergency meeting Monday to discuss the Israeli offensive along the northern Gaza border. Israel says the offensive is aimed at halting Palestinian rocket fire on Israeli communities near the coastal strip.
Mansour asked for an open meeting of the U.N. Security Council and said the ambassadors would prepare a draft resolution that would condemn the Israeli action and call for an immediate cease-fire and withdrawal of Israeli troops from the coastal strip.
He said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also sent a letter to the council president saying the escalation of violence in the past six days had made it difficult for the Palestinians to finalize plans to form a national unity government and make it possible to exchange prisoners with Israel.
"We are the ones who are suffering immensely," Mansour told a news conference. "In spite of that, we are the ones who are willing to honor and respect a mutual cease-fire."
Israel's deputy U.N. ambassador Daniel Carmon rejected Mansour's statement, saying the Palestinian government must act instead to halt rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel.
"There would be no need for (Israeli) hostilities if there was not terrorism," he said in a telephone interview. "It came as a reaction in self-defense to hundreds and hundreds of rocket attacks from the Palestinian territories toward Israel."
Israel launched its offensive in the Gaza Strip in June after Hamas-linked Palestinian militants captured an Israeli soldier, 19-year-old Cpl. Gilad Shalit.
The United States blocked an Arab-backed U.N. resolution several weeks later that would have demanded Israel halt the offensive, the first U.N. Security Council veto in nearly two years.
Israel has intensified its military operation in recent days around the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun, brushing off the concerns of the Vatican and European Union over the mounting bloodshed. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert pledged Sunday to press ahead with the offensive to "considerably reduce" the ability of militants to fire rockets at Israel.
At least seven Palestinians were killed on Monday, including a suicide bomber.
Meanwhile, Abbas met with Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas in Gaza City on Monday to try to wrap up an agreement on forming a unity government. They failed to reach an agreement, but agreed to continue talks on Tuesday.
Abbas has been urging Hamas, which controls most government functions, to join his Fatah movement in a coalition to end crippling international sanctions. However, the platform of the emerging government is vague about demands of the U.S., European Union and Israel to recognize the Jewish state, renounce violence and endorse past peace accords.
Hamas has repeatedly rejected the international conditions since winning legislative elections in January.