US peace envoy George Mitchell arrived in Israel yesterday after saying it was critical to consolidate the Gaza ceasefire, as tensions rose after a deadly raid by Palestinian militants.
He flew into Israel from Egypt on the second leg of his maiden trip to the region, instructed by US President Barack Obama to “engage vigorously” in order to resuscitate the lifeless Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
“It is of critical importance that the ceasefire be extended and consolidated. We support Egypt’s continuing efforts in that regard,” he said after meeting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
He thanked Egypt for its efforts to turn into a lasting truce separate ceasefires Israel and Hamas declared on Jan. 18 after a devastating war and said Washington was “committed to vigorously pursuing lasting peace and stability in the region.”
“The decision by President Obama to dispatch me to come to this region less than one week after his inauguration is clear and tangible evidence of this commitment,” Mitchell said.
He arrived in Egypt on Tuesday amid the deadliest flare-up near Gaza since the fighting halted Israel’s 22-day campaign on the Islamists stronghold.
Palestinian militants killed an Israeli soldier near the border early on Tuesday and Israel retaliated with gunfire that left one man dead, an air strike that wounded three and bombing raids over border smuggling tunnels.
Senior Israeli officials, campaigning for Feb. 10 parliamentary elections, vowed that the Jewish state would hit back hard for the attack.
“The army’s reaction today was only operational. This was not the response to the killing of a soldier ... Israel’s response shall come,” a senior government official quoted Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as saying.