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Israeli President Rejects Call for Cease-fire

DEVELOPING: Israeli President Shimon Peres rejected a call for an immediate cease-fire as Israeli forces pressed their offensive against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip on Sunday, Reuters reports.

Peres said, however, that Israel does not intend to occupy Gaza.

On Saturday, the U.S. blocked approval of a U.N. Security Council statement calling for a cease-fire between Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers, diplomats said.

French U.N. Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert, the council president, said the 15 council members could not agree on a statement in closed discussions held after Israel launched a ground invasion into the Gaza Strip on Saturday. But he said there were "strong convergences" among the members to express concern about the deteriorating situation in Gaza and the need for "an immediate, permanent and fully respected cease-fire."

Libyan Ambassador Giadalla Ettalhi said the United States during the discussions objected to "any outcome" on the proposed statement. He said efforts were made to compromise on a weaker press statement but there was no consensus.

Several other council members, speaking on condition of anonymity because negotiations were closed, also said the U.S. was responsible for the council's failure to issue a statement.

The U.S., Israel's closest ally, has designated Hamas a terrorist organization. U.S. deputy ambassador Alejandro Wolff said the United States saw no prospect of Hamas abiding by last week's council call for an immediate end to the violence. Therefore, he said, a new statement "would not be adhered to and would have no underpinning for success, (and) would not do credit to the council."

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Libya, the only Arab nation on the council, called the emergency meeting after Israel sent tanks and infantry across the border into Gaza on the eighth day of its offensive against Hamas militants. The ground attack followed a week of air strikes, which Hamas, whose charter calls for the destruction of Israel, responded to with salvos of rocket fired into southern Israel.

Arab nations demanded that the council adopt a statement calling for an immediate cease-fire and expressing "serious concern at the escalation of violence and the deterioration of the situation in Gaza and southern Israel," a view echoed by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

If it had been approved, the statement would have become part of the council's official record but would not have the weight of a Security Council resolution, which is legally binding.

Egypt's U.N. Ambassador Maged Abdelaziz said it was regrettable that one permanent council member — a clear reference to the U.S. — refused to accept any statement at a time when "the aggression is escalating and more people are dying and the military attack on the ground is at its full scale."

Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian U.N. observer, said: "We have war. We have aggression against the Palestinian people, and it is a sad and tragic moment when the Security Council cannot address this issue by at least demanding from Israel ... to stop this aggression immediately."

More than 480 Palestinians have been killed and nearly 3,000 injured in Gaza, and four people have been killed in Israel.

Israel maintains the offensive is aimed at stopping the rocket attacks from Hamas-controlled Gaza that have traumatized southern Israel.

Though the Security Council took no action on Saturday night, an Arab draft resolution circulated by Libya on Wednesday night that would condemn Israel and halt its military attacks on Gaza remains on the table. It would have to be revised, however, since the United States has already called it "unacceptable" and "unbalanced" because it doesn't call for an end to the Hamas rocketing of Israel.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is expected in New York on Tuesday, along with half a dozen Arab foreign ministers who will be at the U.N. on Monday, to press for a cease-fire resolution.

Mansour said he hopes Abbas and the ministers will succeed in pushing through a resolution "so that we will have a durable and sustainable cease-fire between us and the Israelis."

Asked what kind of resolution would be acceptable to the United States, Wolff said: "The important point to focus on here is establishing the understanding of what type of cease-fire we're talking about and to ensure that it's lasting, and to ensure that we don't return to a situation that led to the current situation."

The Bush administration on Saturday blamed the more than week-old onslaught in Gaza squarely on Hamas militants.

A State Department official said the U.S. is working toward a cease-fire but provided no details on how this can be accomplished because the U.S. does not talk to Hamas. Spokesman Sean McCormack said a cease-fire is needed that will not allow Hamas to continue firing rockets into Israel. McCormack said "it's obvious the cease-fire should take place as soon as possible," but it has to be sustainable and cannot allow Hamas to continue to launch rockets out of Gaza.

Hamas is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States and many other Western nations. From 2000 to 2004, Hamas was responsible for killing nearly 400 Israelis and wounding more than 2,000 in 425 attacks, according to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

From 2001 through May 2008, Hamas launched more than 3,000 Qassam rockets and 2,500 mortar attacks against Israeli targets.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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