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Obama envoy arrives for talks with Israelis



President Obama's newly appointed envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, arrived in Israel on Wednesday as part of a new U.S. effort to work toward a broader peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Israel's Foreign Ministry confirmed Mitchell arrived in Tel Aviv, and will head to Jerusalem shortly.

Hours before his arrival, Israeli missiles struck several smuggling tunnels along Gaza's southern border with Egypt in response to the killing of an Israeli soldier a day earlier near the Kissufim crossing, the Israeli military said.

One of Israel's key demands in peace talks has been international help shutting down tunnels into Gaza that Israel says Hamas fighters use to smuggle weapons into the territory. Hamas -- which is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and Israel -- controls Gaza.

On Tuesday, Palestinian militants from Gaza set off explosives targeting an Israeli military patrol near the border, killing an Israeli warrant officer and wounding three other soldiers, the Israeli military said.

A short time later, an Israeli aircraft fired on a "terror operative" outside Khan Yunis in southern Gaza who "was prominent in the organization responsible for the attack in Kissufim," according to the Israeli military. A Hamas security source said one Palestinian was killed in that strike.

Also Tuesday, Israeli forces fired warning shots near a convoy carrying France's general consul at the Israel-Gaza border, a French diplomatic source told CNN.



The well-marked diplomatic convoy, which included several European diplomats, was held for six hours Tuesday at the Erez border crossing, which separates northern Gaza from Israel, the source said.

France summoned the Israeli ambassador in Paris on Wednesday to "shed some light" on the incident, the source said. The Israeli military said it was not aware of the incident, and is checking the report.

Tuesday's violence was the first violation of the tentative cease-fire between Israel and Hamas-ruled Gaza, which began last week after a three-week military operation by Israeli troops in the Palestinian territory.

Mitchell arrived Tuesday in Cairo, Egypt, where he thanked Egyptian leaders for helping to negotiate the truce.

"It is of critical importance that the cease-fire be extended and consolidated, and we support Egypt's continuing efforts in that regard," Mitchell said. "The United States is 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 that one week after his inauguration is a clear and tangible evidence of this commitment."

During his eight-day visit, Mitchell plans to meet with leaders in Israel, the West Bank, Jordan and Saudi Arabia before returning to the United States next Tuesday, according to the State Department.

In an interview with Al-Arabiya satellite television network ahead of Mitchell's trip, Obama said the United States will start by listening, not dictating, to the Israelis and Palestinians. A response will be formulated after consultations with all the major parties involved, he said.

"The moment is ripe for both sides to realize that the path that they are on is one that is not going to result in prosperity and security for their people, and that, instead, it's time to return to the negotiating table," Obama said in the interview, which aired on Monday.

Mitchell, who served as a Mideast envoy for the administration of George W. Bush, authored a 2001 report that called for a halt to Israeli settlements and greater Palestinian efforts to crack down on terror.
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He also was a peace broker on Northern Ireland for President Clinton. When accepting his latest appointment from Obama, Mitchell said that through those experiences, "I formed the conviction that there is no such thing as a conflict that can't be ended."

"Conflicts are created, conducted and sustained by human beings; they can be ended by human beings," he said.



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Tags: barack obama, israel
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