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(photo credit: AP)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met with visiting French President Nicolas Sarkozy late Monday night amid a general sense in Jerusalem that the Europeans do not have a concrete cease-fire proposal to put on the table.
Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg said as much at a Jerusalem press conference after he and a high-level EU delegation met with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.
"We didn't have a specific plan for the cease-fire because the cease-fire must be concluded by the parties. We can help it, mediate, assist a solution, but it is not up to us to propose the conditions of the cease-fire," Schwarzenberg said.
Senior diplomatic officials said that, to a certain extent, the visits by both Sarkozy and the EU delegation were meant more for domestic European consumption than anything else, to give the European public a feeling that their leaders were involved and looking for a solution.
The heavy diplomatic lifting, the officials said, was currently taking place in Cairo, where a Hamas delegation was headed Monday to discuss ways to end the fighting.
Nevertheless, Israeli officials said it was clear that intensive international involvement would be needed to establish the mechanism Israel has said must be in place along the Egyptian-Gazan border to prevent arms smuggling as part of a cease-fire.
One senior diplomatic official said that while the return of kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit was not a condition for a cease-fire, "there will be no normalization with Gaza until Schalit is released."
Israel has reiterated that its conditions for an end to the operation were an end to the rocket fire, a significant weakening of Hamas's military capability, and an international mechanism to ensure the end of arms smuggling.
"We want to hear what friends have to say," one official in the Prime Minister's Office said before the Sarkozy meeting. "Ultimately, we understand that on the day this is over, regional and international actors will have an important role to play in maintaining the quiet, and specifically in preventing the rearming of Hamas."
However, the official said that Israel would make clear to Sarkozy and other key international players that it was not interested in international monitors - an idea floated on Monday by Turkey.
Before meeting Olmert, Sarkozy - who is on a regional tour that will take him to Damascus and Beirut on Tuesday - met with President Shimon Peres and said he was " a friend" who was "very worried about the situation."
He again called for a 48-hour humanitarian cease-fire, an idea Israel rejected last week.
Peres told Sarkozy during the meeting that Hamas was a "direct emissary" of Iran, and that it was essential to prevent Iranian entry into the Gaza Strip either through the border crossings or the tunnels.
According to the official, Israel would know when rockets hit it from Gaza, and did not need international monitors to "submit reports."
"We don't need ceremonial forces," the official said. "What we need is a mechanism that can keep Hamas from rearming, and there are regional powers as well as international players who can support such as goal."
Schwarzenberg said the EU has "a slightly different view of things" than Israel, and said a cease-fire "should be established as soon as possible."
Livni said that Israel was not asking the world for troops to fight terrorism, as was done in other areas of the world in the fight against al-Qaida, but only "to allow us to carry on until we feel that we have achieved our goals at this stage."
Livni said she had made clear to her interlocutors that Hamas received its arsenal of long-range missiles in an "orderly fashion" from Iran. She also said that Israel had made clear through its military operation that the days of inaction in the face of rocket fire were over.
"When Israel is targeted, Israel is going to retaliate," she said. "Israel is going to give an answer to [rocket fire] because this is an ongoing, long war against terror."
In addition to Schwarzenberg, the other members of the EU delegation included EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana; the European Commissioner in charge of External Relations, Benita Ferrero-Waldner; Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt; and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner.
The Czech Republic currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU, having succeeded the French on January 1. Sweden will take up the position in six months' time.